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The best new IPs of 2015

Dec 18 // Laura Kate Dale
Undertale While Undertale's release this year was a complete surprise to most people who played it, a turn-based JRPG bullet hell game that remembers your actions, allows you to avoid murder, and has dateable skeletons is a pretty easy pitch to get people to check it out. The game has quickly amassed a rather large and dedicated fan following, and it's not hard to see why. The unusual blending of genre mechanics, the homages to EarthBound, the stellar writing, and the screenshotable nature of the cast was just prime for spreading like wild fire. Undertale may not be the longest game, and it's unlikely to ever get a direct sequel, but it has firmly cemented itself deep in the hearts of many a gamer this year. I laughed, I cried a bit, I screamed in frustration, and I walked away guilty. That's more of an emotional ride than can be said for most video games. Even if I now do feel my sins crawling on my back. Bloodborne While Bloodborne had a considerable head start on many of our best new IP contenders, as the spiritual sequel to the highly successful Dark Souls games, this particular IP did not take the easy design route. Taking Dark Souls' unforgiving combat style and pairing it with a rich new lore, additional mechanics that incentivized aggressive combat techniques, and a considerably upped gameplay pace, Bloodborne invites players to fight their way through a world that was memorable, challenging, and surprising on a regular basis. While there is a new Dark Souls on the way, Bloodborne is the franchise I'm more excited to see a sequel to. Splatoon Splatoon is the very embodiment of Nintendo looking at what other people were doing, and creating something fascinating by adding its own Nintendo Twist. The idea is simple: make a competitive online shooter where players' primary aim is not to shoot other characters, but to shoot non-sentient structures and surfaces. Online shooters are incredibly popular as a genre, but there's very little in the way of options for younger players to get into playing (you know, unless they play Call of Duty in spite being seven). It's an under-served market, and Nintendo seized it perfectly. Splatoon not only managed to capture attention with a unique art style and colour palette, its consistent long-term roll-out of new content has kept players engaged longer than many other comparable releases. Life is Strange Okay, I'll be the first to admit my beloved Life is Strange isn't perfect by any stretch. It's melodramatic, it's at times stilted in its writing, and it has some major issues with pacing. Still, the series is also one of the most memorable things I played this year, and it does things no other games are daring to do. Life is Strange managed to get a lot very right. It used time travel as a gameplay mechanic to get around not knowing the context of your choices in episodic narratives, allowing players to properly commit to choices they made. Pick a choice, watch it play out, rewind, check out another choice, decide which you want to commit to, and go ahead fully in favour of your actions. Life is Strange also managed to tackle some tough themes in a tasteful way, giving agency over real-life situations to powerful effect. Oh, and I really, really like Chloe. I played the entire game constantly trying to kiss her at every possible moment. Her Story Her Story is an ambitious game that tried something untested, and managed to pull it off. Set on a late-nineties British Police computer database, the game tells a nonlinear narrative through tagged, live-action video files. The concept was simple. Start with the word "murder," search the database for any relevant clips, investigate a woman's statements to police, and unravel a deeply bizarre crime. The performances of the game's leading lady were truly top notch, as was the narrative and the natural structure for unraveling plot threads. There was always something to look for more information on, and as additional clues became visible, the plot had numerous unexpected turns. Seriously, Her Story is really damn strong. SOMA SOMA is a terrifyingly grounded horror story about themes of desolation, humanity, sacrifice, and what it means to truly exist. Yep, those are heavy themes to tackle, but SOMA handles them admirably. Giving a wholly bleak view of humanity's future, it makes a strong case that everything we do is ultimately meaningless. Not a depressing thought at all. Besides the strong story, it also wowed with its presentation. From elaborate degrading structures to creature designs that twist expectations, I was constantly impressed with the cohesive structure of the game. Also, SOMA is just plain scary. Until Dawn Until Dawn is an interactive horror movie game, built from a collection of well-known genre tropes mashed together. Throw a bunch of kids in a spooky remote cabin with nightmare monsters, and see what happens. The genius of Until Dawn's design is that the tropes being drawn from are not consistent or predictable, making plot turns hard to see. Experienced horror genre fans will at times see what's coming and be able to make informed choices regarding what to do. Personally, I was a fan of deliberate murder. Let's see what we can do to kill everyone off as gruesomely as possible. I suppose you could try and keep people alive too, if you want.  I just hope we get new Until Dawn games in the future that are not on-rails VR shooters. Ori and the Blind Forest On a simple mechanical level, Ori and the Blind Forest is decent, but nothing special. It's a side-scrolling metroidvania that does everything solidly, but doesn't push much in the way of new ground. So, why is it on this list? Because it was god damn beautifully, visually and as a narrative. Picture those Rayman games from a little while back, but done to a much higher level and accompanied by a Ghibli-esque soundtrack. Ori and the Blind Forest is a technical masterpiece and I can't wait to see what the studio works on next. The Beginner's Guide The Beginner's Guide is a weird game, in that it caused a huge splash upon launch, with many reviewers hesitant to say anything at all about it. People were affected by it, not always positively, and it clearly had a strong impact on many players. A few months on, it's still unclear how genuine the narrative told is, or how much we can rely on the narrator of the experience. But if you have around and hour and a half and want to be floored by an unexpected narrative, you'll be hard pressed to do better than The Beginner's Guide. Just make sure to complete it within your Steam refund window, as there are legitimate reasons to want to return this game after purchase. [To clarify the above statement regarding refunds, while I view this game as a work of fiction, and recommend people play it as such, many players view the narrative as an accurate work of non fiction. If you fall into the camp that view this as non fiction, an aspect of the narrative implies that the content is stolen wholesale from another developer. While I paid for the game and believe doing so is a morally acceptable action, what I wish to make clear is that if players disagree with my reading of the narrative and feel I reccomended them an experience they didn't morally agree with, there is a financial way to back out of that purchase. This is not an encouragement to back out of payment due to length, but simply me pointing out that if you finish the game and believe the narrative to be non fiction, and if you believe that you purchased stolen goods, there is a way to avoid your money remaining with that developer in this very specific case. My initial vague comment was an attempt to avoid a major spoiler for the narrative, but has unfortunately left the reasons for my recommendations open to wider interpretation]  Dropsy In the lead up to launch, many people following Dropsy assumed that before its end, it would take some upsetting or dark horror twist. A point-and-click adventure, it is actually anything but a horror experience. It's a simple game about a socially isolated individual who wants nothing more than the simple joys of companionship. Beneath the initial appearance of Dropsy the clown is an individual whose primary interaction with the world is a hug button. Quests are told through pictorial desires. You bring people together, people see the good in you, and you hug. Dropsy is one of those games that's a beautiful palette cleanser. If you're feeling video game murderer fatigue, it's an experience poised to make you feel just a little better about the world. Gravity Ghost Gravity Ghost is a simple game mechanically. You play the ghost of a young girl, jumping among planets and stars to reunite animal bodies and spirits. It's relaxing. There are no punishments for failure, and the experience is almost mesmerically smooth and simple. It is a gorgeous, laid-back experience hiding a deep and relatable human story. The game deals with themes of growing up. It deals with taking responsibility for the consequences of your actions, processing loss, and the connection that remains to those we lose. Gravity Ghost's narrative is simple, elegant, and resonant in a way few games manage. Read Only Memories Read Only Memories is a charmingly written, wonderfully stylised, instantly memorable point-and click-adventure that released earlier this year. It tells a cyberpunk story of crime, politics, technology, and relationships that's super intriguing from start to finish. Oh, and it also happens to have a cast full to the brim with simply handled diversity. You've got gay characters, trans characters, a bunch of other different types of characters, and the fact they may be gay or transgender never becomes the forefront of who they are. They just happen to be those things without any fanfare, and it's wonderful to behold.
Best New IPs photo
Not every series is Assassin's Creed yet
Video games are increasingly expensive products to create. Every generation as graphics increase in quality, the sheer size of teams required to put together new amazing, fantastic worlds grows dramatically. With video games ...

Review: Yakuza 5

Dec 17 // Kyle MacGregor
Yakuza 5 (PS3)Developer: SegaPublisher: SegaMSRP: $39.99 Released: December 8, 2015 (NA/EU)  December 6, 2012 (JP) The tale unfurls from five seemingly unrelated vantage points, picking up two years after the events of Yakuza 4 with former yakuza and series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu attempting to live a quiet life as a cab driver in Fukuoka. Of course, our hero can't seem to escape his past, and with trouble brewing, it isn't long before he's pulled out of his taxi and back into the fray. Far to the north, Tojo strongman Taiga Saejima is nearing the end of a prison sentence in Hokkaido, where he, despite being 2,000 miles away from the events in Fukuoka, feels the ripple effects of what's going on. Meanwhile, Kiryu's adoptive niece Haruka has left her home in Okinawa to chase dreams of becoming a pop star in Osaka, where old friend Shun Akiyama, the affable moneylender from Yakuza 4, also happens to be setting up a new office for his company Sky Finance. Tossed into the mix is newcomer Tatsuo Shinada, a disgraced former baseball player living hand-to-mouth in a seedy corner of Nagoya after being thrown out of the league on suspicion of game-fixing. He, more so than the rest of the cast, appears to have little to do with the goings on of the criminal underworld, much less the tensions between the Omi Alliance and Tojo Clan. And yet he too becomes involved in this nationwide clash between gangs as everything intertwines and comes to a head. Speaking of heads, chances are, unless you're intimately familiar with Japanese geography or the series in general, that synopsis might have left your's spinning. With such a rich backstory and so many characters, locations, and groups, it can be difficult for even the best of us to fully grasp what's going on. But I suppose that's part of the charm; the complicated interweaving of everything makes for one hell of a soap opera delving into the fascinating world of Japan's organized crime families. Another strength of Yakuza 5, and the series in general, is the painstaking lengths at which Sega goes to make that world feel real. Everything from bustling city streets to the convenience stores and ramen shops is rendered with such attention to detail, it might just be the closest you can come to visiting Japan without hopping on a plane. In relief of that realism is the gameplay, which has a certain air about it akin to a smell that can send you back to a specific place and time. Whether you're brawling with gangsters, drag racing, fishing, participating in a FPS snowball fight, hunting, or playing Virtua Fighter or Taiko Drum Master in the arcade, the whole experience feels very much like a Dreamcast-era arcade game. Cut between the ultra-serious story of conspiracy and deadly consequences is a pastiche of ridiculous, over-the-top (and cloyingly dated) mini-games that serve to lighten the mood, smack you in the face, and remind you that it's a video game -- not just a television drama. Nowhere is this more evident than Haruka's portion of the story, which transforms the experience (for a while, at least) into an idol simulation with Hatsune Miku: Project Diva-esque rhythm game sequences and handshake meet-and-greet sessions with fans. Sadly, none of these elements are handled with the same care and dedication given to the story or world-building, which is a real shame, and leaves the experience feeling somewhat archaic. The fighting, in particular, hasn't seen much of a leap forward since the series debuted a decade ago on PlayStation 2. Even considering how long it took Sega to localize this particular entry, its stiff combat just feels woefully antiquated in contrast with most action games on the market these days. However, despite some rough edges like that or a bizarre fixation with hammering home an overarching theme about "dreams" near the point of self-parody, Yakuza 5 provides dozens upon dozens of hours of legitimate entertainment, the sort that kept me engaged and constantly left me torn between rushing ahead to see what twists and turns the story would take next and poking my nose into every single nook and cranny to explore the hostess clubs, remote mountain shrines, and everything in between. Yakuza 5 is exactly the sort of game the expression "greater than the sum of its parts" was made to describe. Each facet of the experience, taken individually, leaves room for improvement, but, reflecting on my time with Yakuza 5, I can't conjure much in the way of disappointment. Some bumps notwithstanding, it's a hell of a ride, one that I heartily recommend. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Yakuza 5 review photo
Who says crime doesn't pay?
With the chairman of the Omi crime syndicate on his deathbed, an uneasy truce with the Tojo Clan hangs in the balance. Anticipating a conflict, Tojo boss Daigo Dojima travels to Fukuoka in search of allies. But before an agre...

Review: King's Quest: Rubble Without a Cause

Dec 17 // Chris Carter
King’s Quest: Rubble Without a Cause (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: The Odd GentlemenPublisher: Sierra EntertainmentReleased: December 16, 2015MSRP: $9.99 per episode / $40 for the "Complete Collection" [No major spoilers are mentioned for the current episode, although events of previous episodes will inevitably be discussed.] Rubble picks up some time after the first tale, after Graham has become king. He's still the same lovable old rascal, but right from the get-go you can see the toll that his new responsibility has taken on him. Graham is chipper and the tone is still light starting out, but you can tell that the developers are slowly easing us into a more serious method of storytelling. Without spoiling too much, Graham and a few members of his kingdom have been taken hostage by goblins, who reside in an underground kingdom. Given his height, he's been tasked with a few daily chores, which allows him access to the tunnels, while the others are forced to rot in prison cells. As you can imagine, a few familiar faces return, but you'll get to meet a few new characters as well. What I love about this setup is that it feels connected to the first episode, but also maintains its own identity. You get to see Graham's relationship with other characters grow in a meaningful way -- even with many of his adversaries. While the goblins can't talk, the animations are incredibly expressive (just like Graham) and full of life. For example, upon entering the dungeon, Graham is exhausted, walking around in a hilariously lethargic manner. After gaining his strength back his state will alter, as will the captives over time. The animation team really deserves a shoutout here, as they deserve to have a long career ahead of them. [embed]326509:61517:0[/embed] In a stark contrast to the first episode, Rubble takes a decidedly more old school approach. You're basically given a giant playground to roam around in, which is gated off by Graham's own "strength meter." It's here that the aforementioned kingly choices will come in, as you'll need to juggle the needs of three prisoners in addition to your own. If you eat -- you can explore more of the cave -- but you'll risk having a member of your kingdom starve. It's such a small, almost gamey thing (it even has heart meters), but since I already had an emotional attachment with these characters, it worked. I was legitimately stressed out (in a good way) trying to keep everyone happy, while constantly divining solutions to secrets in my head. You'll need to keep your wits about you too, as a few puzzles even had me writing down a few in-game events on paper. Again, it's far more detailed than any Telltale game, without getting resorting to "pixel-hunting" and overly frustrating cryptic solutions. Also, if you didn't enjoy the action sequences in the last episode, they're basically non-existent here. The art style is still stunning, and that Don Bluth feel is intact. The goblin's caves also feel unique compared to the mostly above-ground setting of the first episode, and the scale is grand without being too overwhelming. Layout-wise, there's basically a few giant wheels with several spokes -- it's enough where it will be helpful to remember rooms off-hand. In terms of quality of life updates, the entire package gained a skip button in this latest update, which is incredibly useful for repeating dialogue or events. I haven't really noticed much carry-over from the previous tale, but choices made in Rubble that will impact future episodes are somewhat evident -- plus, there's a meta-narrative teased at the end. Second parts tend to be troublesome for episodic series, as they often feel like transitional stories that merely set the table for what's to come. But with King's Quest: Rubble Without a Cause, characters are growing right before our eyes with a subtle and effective tonal shift. The Odd Gentlemen also nailed the script, as it feels like a standalone episode that's also connected to the episodic format as a whole. We still have three tales to go, but for now, I'm feeling pretty good about King's Quest. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
King's Quest review photo
I really can wait to be king
The first episode of the newly minted King's Quest series really took me by surprise. While I had been loosely following it for years, I never expected it to be one of my favorite games of the year. The cast, the animati...

Cloud in Smash Bros. is all about the limit break

Dec 16 // Patrick Hancock
Let's start with his special moves. Neutral B: Blade Beam This is a pretty awful projectile. The best thing about it is that it lasts a decent amount of time and goes straight. It's an okay spacing tool but has incredibly small knockback and pitiful damage. The limit break version, on the other hand, is great. It travels quickly and has multiple hits, doing around 17% damage. It can be a decent edge-guarding tool (it hits hanging opponents) and can be used to catch opponents rolling. Side B: Cross Slash This is an interesting move. The standard version requires multiple presses of the B button to execute, which leaves Cloud with some options. Since people tend to mash button to get out of things, cutting this off early can catch players and force them into an exposed situation. The limit break version is very high damage, but won't kill too early. It comes out pretty much instantly so it's a nice punish if you catch an opponent in a poor position. Up B: Climhazzard First of all, "climb-hazzard?" What?! I've been calling it "Clim-hazzard" forever! Anyway, Cloud has some awful recovery. His normal up special doesn't get much height and definitely doesn't go very horizontal. Be careful not to tap B again, or else he'll head straight downwards, ignoring any and all ledges on his way [he can still grab ledges! Thanks LinkSlayer]. It's also not a very good attack; it's sort of like Kirby's up special, except you don't need to commit to the downward swing. The limit break version has some absolutely wonderful recovery, both vertical and horizontal, however it's still a lackluster attack on the ground. Down B: Limit Charge / Finishing Touch This charges Cloud's Limit Break meter and, more importantly, displays it to the players. The gauge is invisible normally, so knowing exactly where it is can be key. From zero, it takes about seven seconds to get to full charge. Once charged, this special becomes an instant, insanely powerful kill move. But it's all knockback; the hit itself does 1% damage. This is a huge risk/reward. It kills off the top hella early, as low as around 55% on standard character weight like Mario (without Directional Influence). If it doesn't kill, however, all you've accomplished is 1% damage, a huge waste of the Limit Break. While playing online, most Clouds I encountered would charge Limit Break at any given chance, even if it meant giving up stage control. I don't think this is the best strategy. Having a Limit Break can be a hindrance; the next special attack needs to count, which means you can't throw out a random special attack. When Samus has her Charge Shot, she can still shoot missiles and lay bombs without worrying. Cloud is forced into an awkward position where suddenly, everything should be a standard attack until an opening presents itself. Personally, I like to charge sparingly. Since the Limit Gauge charges automatically by getting hit, charging the meter close to 100% forces the opponent into a corner. By hitting you, they give you a Limit Break, but by not fighting, well, that won't get far. This gives the player an opportunity to play around with their specials for a bit before the Limit Break pops. Now, his stats are slightly better when the Limit Gauge is full, but I still feel awkwardly restricted at the same time. It's an interesting trade-off, and one that will definitely need more experimentation. And don't be scared to throw out a Limit Break attack like a Blade Beam, since there's little recovery associated with it. The others, however, are a bit riskier because of the lag time when missed. [embed]327136:61537:0[/embed] As far as notable normals, Cloud has some decent options. His forward smash is absolutely incredible. It can kill around 75% uncharged! It has a decent windup and ending lag, so it's not something that players should just throw out whenever. His forward and up tilts are basic sword swipes and come out pretty fast, so I've leaned on them for some quick reaction attacks. His down tilt is a slide, and damn do I love this move. It's quick and moves Cloud a decent distance, meaning it has use as an attack and a movement option. It pops up the opponent a short distance, leading to easy followups with an up aerial (which also comes out very quick) or a neutral jump/mind games. Cloud's forward tilt takes some time to come out, but has a large arc and spikes towards the end. His down aerial also spikes at the tip, and looks just like Link's. His neutral aerial, however, is easily his best option. It's arc is huge and comes out way quicker than his other options. In general, if I'm jumping, I'm throwing out a neutral air. Cloud has no kill throws at any reasonable percents. I've found that his down throw is a decent setup for followups. It pops them up just enough to perform a short hop and a quick aerial, which is nice. It's not a true combo from what I can tell, though. His grab range is also sort of garbage. As for his stage, it's amazing. No, it won't be at any tournaments ever. However, for groups like my friends and me, which enjoy playing on the wonky-but-not-too-wonky maps, it's perfect. All of the stage alterations from the summons are pretty tame. I'd say it's somewhere in between Pokémon Stadium 1 and 2 in terms of obtrusive stage hazards. Plus, it's got some of the best music so far in the game and YES I LOVE FINAL FANTASY VII SO WHAT I'M NOT BIASED. Unfortunately, I don't see Cloud rising through the ranks to top tier like I did with Ryu. He has some great power and an interesting mechanic, but his lack of recovery leaves him way too open to gimping and his slower moves will leave him at the will of quick characters like Sheik or Zero Suit Samus.
Cloud impressions photo
And the forward smash
Guys, Cloud is in Super Smash Bros. Holy shit.

Metal Gear creator starts Kojima Productions to work on PS4 exclusive

Dec 16 // Steven Hansen
Kojima also loosed this tweet. [embed]327182:61539:0[/embed] Oh, and here's the Kojima Productions logo, as black as Kojima's suit.
New Kojima studio photo
Console exclusive
Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima just formally announced his new studio, Kojima Productions (this was also the name of his in-house Konami studio before parting ways with the company). The above video has Sony's Andrew ...

Bayonetta is in Super Smash Bros.

Dec 15 // Patrick Hancock
Bayonetta in Smash! photo
Get Wicked!
Bayonetta, a character many fans have wanted in Super Smash Bros., has just been officially announced for the game! Bayonetta was the #1 choice in Europe's Smash ballot, and in the top five in North America. In fact, sh...

Review: The Bit.Trip

Dec 15 // Ben Davis
The Bit.Trip (PS4 [reviewed], PS Vita, PS3)Developer: Choice ProvisionsPublisher: Choice ProvisionsMSRP: $9.99 (Cross-Buy)Released: December 5, 2015 (PS4, PS Vita), TBA (PS3) The Bit.Trip is a collection of all six games in the Bit.Trip series which were originally released on WiiWare, similar to Bit.Trip Complete for Wii and Bit.Trip Saga for 3DS from a few years ago. It may have a different name than the other compilations, but it's largely the same aside from the controls, menus, and a few extras. The Bit.Trip differs in that it offers Trophies and leaderboards, which already existed for the PC versions of the games, but not for the Wii and 3DS versions. However, it's lacking all of the bonus content and extra challenge levels introduced in Bit.Trip Complete. Those extras would have been a nice addition here as a way to entice people who have already played some of the games before, but as it stands, it's basically just a straightforward compilation. [embed]326911:61531:0[/embed] Even so, the Bit.Trip games still hold up incredibly well, and the price is perfect for anyone looking to experience them again (or for the first time). All six games can be accessed from the slick main menu, featuring some neat concept art whenever a title is selected. Each game also allows the player to choose between Easy, Normal, or Hard difficulty settings, which is nice because the Bit.Trip games can be quite difficult, even on Easy! For those who haven't played Bit.Trip before, the series spans several different genres with an emphasis on rhythm-based gameplay, all held together with similar themes to tell the story of the life and death of Commander Video. Bit.Trip Beat and Bit.Trip Flux are very Pong-like in nature, requiring the player to move a paddle up and down to bounce incoming beats back to the rhythm. Bit.Trip Runner switches things up as a rhythmic auto-running platformer, while Bit.Trip Fate takes the series in another drastically different direction as a musical on-rails shooter. Bit.Trip Core and Bit.Trip Void are a bit harder to describe, but they both offer gameplay that is completely unique to the series. Core gives players control of an X and Y axis which can zap any beats that pass over them, while Void has players controlling an ever-expanding black hole which must consume other black shapes while avoiding white ones. Void is actually my personal favorite of the series, simply because I've never played anything else quite like it. The biggest difference for the PlayStation versions of these games is of course going to be the controls. I found playing with the Dualshock 4 to be quite comfortable and intuitive, easily on par with the Wii controls. Both Core and Void let the player choose between the left analog stick or the d-pad for movement. I found the analog stick to be preferable in most situations, although the d-pad was useful for a certain boss in Void which requires precision movements, and some players will probably prefer to use the d-pad to play Core (I found it to be a little uncomfortable after a while). Fate uses both analog sticks -- one for movement and one for aiming and shooting -- and it felt perfect. The controls for Runner are about what you'd expect, since it only requires simple button inputs. It would be kind of hard to mess those up. As for Beat and Flux, the controls work similarly to the Wii Remote in that you simply have to tilt the Dualshock 4 forward and back to move the paddle. It seemed to really pick up on my hands shaking though, which caused the paddle to sort of vibrate slightly up and down all the time. This made it feel as though I didn't have as much control over the paddle as I would have like, but it wasn't too much of a deal-breaker for me since I wasn't going for high scores or anything. However, it did make the final boss of Beat especially difficult since it's easier to win by hitting the beats back with the very tip of the paddle. I kept missing even the slow-moving beats by the slightest degree, most likely because of the vibrations. Finally, for players interested in leaderboards, they'll be happy to know that each game has separate leaderboards for every individual level, divided between the three difficulty settings. These can be accessed directly from the main menu or individually from the menus of the specific games. While The Bit.Trip could have been made marginally better with the addition of any kind of bonus content (such as the extra challenges found in Bit.Trip Complete), it's still a solid compilation of an excellent series of games. Thankfully, they hold up just as well on PlayStation consoles as they did on the Wii. If you still haven't taken the dive into the rhythmic, arcade-y goodness of Bit.Trip, or if you've been looking for a reason to play through it all again, now would be the perfect time to do so. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
The Bit.Trip review photo
SERIES.COMPLETE
The Bit.Trip series holds a special place in my heart. With a wonderful blend of rhythm-based mechanics and arcade-style gameplay spanning various genres, the games are easy to pick up, quick to fall in love with, and yet inc...

The Smash Bros. update has been data-mined, Nintendo Direct spoilers inside

Dec 15 // Jed Whitaker
The biggest piece of leaked information is easily that fan favorite Geno from the SNES classic Super Mario RPG is getting his very own Mii costume! Pretty exciting for most fans, but personally I'm all about that Mallow life, as he is the best character from any RPG ever objectively, obviously.  More information about Cloud from Final Fantasy VII has also been revealed including his alternate costumes none of which are him in a dress sadly. Cloud's solo mode victory video featuring a cameo by a certain six-winged monstrosity, and his victory and stage music have also been leaked. The only other tidbit of information found is that the Kalos stage from Pokémon has been updated, but the details of what that include are unknown. So no new characters or stages may be unveiled, just more information about what we already knew was coming and a peek at a Geno Mii costume. Obviously, take this all with a grain of salt until officially announced from Nintendo. Find out if this final Smash Bros. Nintendo Direct lives up to the hype in just a few short hours! I'm personally still hoping for Scrooge McDuck and Shaq as playable characters. Super Smash Bros. subreddit [reddit]
By the seven stars! photo
One awesome new Mii costume!
The final Nintendo Direct for Super Smash Bros. for 3DS/Wii U happens today at 5pm ET. But, an update released last night for both titles has been data-mined revealing some new information, while keeping most surprises under wraps for Nintendo to reveal.

First hands-on with Crytek's newest game The Climb

Dec 15 // Steven Hansen
The Climb is simple. Once you strap into an Oculus virtual reality headset, two disembodied hands appear in front of you. Pulling the left or right triggers on the Xbox controller clenches the respective fist. "Aiming" the hand at a divot in the cliff, by way of moving your head towards where you're trying to grab, prompts the hand to appear as if it's reaching a bit more urgently, signalling to you it's ready to grab. And that's it, hand over hand, you're climbing rock. I played a course in south east Asia on easy difficulty, which only necessitates two types of grips. The most technical thing I had to do was let go with one hand and quickly grasp the same hold with the other. That and you'll want to occasionally hold the bumpers to chalk your hands so they don't start bleeding down your players' hip fitness wristband. I might be stereotyping, but I'm pretty sure it read, "YOLO" at some point. But that was it. There was some hand over hand lateral movement across a plank and a jump or two to otherwise out of reach handholds, but it's mostly about the physical intimacy of climbing up a giant rock and occasionally physically turning your head around to soak in the beautiful vista. Miles of CryEngine rendered landscape juxtaposed against surrogate fingertips. "The engine gives us that ability to do the distance, the scale, the largeness and intimacy," Crytek's Director of Production David Bowman said. Crytek came out hot in 2013 with three big releases: Crysis 3, Warface (hah!), and Ryse: Son of Rome. The first and third were sales letdowns. The second has a name that gave me immense pleasure for a year or so and might have made money in Asian and European markets where is launched sexy female soldiers. Its 2014 announcements -- a Johnny Come Lately MOBA Arena of Fate and Darksiders follow up from former Vigil employees Hunt -- have been radio silent in 2015. Its other known project is a VR game with dinosaurs. Bowman noted that Crytek is, "going to continue to make traditional great, fantastic games," but said that, "VR gives us a new toolset, a new platform, a new media that plays to our strengths. It plays right into what we do better than anybody. This is our chance to really shine." Virtual reality is an important part of Crytek's future. Where Ryse was basically an Xbox One tech demo, a piece of impressive "next gen" looks, The Climb is something like that for VR, albeit with a lot more substance than the QTE-heavy movie knockoff. Bowman calls it, "one of the premier Oculus content experiences," and says it will be released "early" in the Oculus' life cycle. "They love it," Bowman said. Oculus made a smart decision pairing its still-not-dated, still-not-priced Rift VR headset with a strong piece of software in EVE: Valkyrie. The Climb may not have that pack-in position, but Bowman says the simplicity is what will sell VR to a wider audience. "The approachability of this, we have really high hopes for it as far as bringing in people who might not consider themselves gamers. And if you are a gamer, there's a lot of sport here. It's free climb solo. That level of danger in real life means you're not going to go out and do it probably yourself, but here you have this extreme sport that's now accessible to you. "What every hardware platform needs is that application that you can say, 'Hey, I bought this, I have fun with it, and now I'm sharing it with my friends and family, and I feel good about it because they're able to appreciate it.' And now all of a sudden they're going, 'I had fun doing that, so I'm going to buy one,' and it tends to snowball. That's how hardware adoption happens." And while Bowman maintains Crytek will continue to make "traditional" games, the company has, "probably the largest VR team, the largest that I'm aware of anyway." "We're trying to position Cryengine to be the best toolchain to work in VR," Technical Director Rok Erjavec added. More people using the engine for good VR experiences increases the likelihood of VR somehow catching on where something like 3D has failed. "2016: Early adopters. 2017: Friends and family of those early adopters going, 'I want one too,'" Bowman said. "By 2019, I'm saying this is going to be one of those ways you access all sorts of experiences, not just games, but data in general. We want to be riding that curve, that wave." It starts with The Climb. "When we started doing climbing originally during our tech demos...we realized, 'Hey, this is fun. This a fun thing to do, just inherently." It took some time to get there, of course. The Climb started with a full pair of disembodied arms, but testers of different size felt out of sorts with the one-size-fits-all proportions, so the team lopped the arms off and reduce the interface to floating hands.  "We thought it'd be really fun to fall and hit the rocks and bounce and stuff. Man that makes you so sick. Don't do that." The sweet spot for falling -- to put that knot in players' stomachs without leaving them retching -- turned out to be 2.3 seconds of freefall and then a fade to black. "A lot of our developers and our QA team, god bless them, they have had to endure some really fun experimentation," Bowman said. He was cagey on how many staffers puked, but noted that during early prototyping, the team had to account for the fact that a developer might have to get out of the thing after about an hour of work due to nausea. Now, level designers work in the visor all day. "We had people run to the bathroom, though." Well, if anyone did puke during those early phases of prototyping, it's between them and their porcelain god. Bowman was cagey on just how much stuff would appear in The Climb, too. "We have a set amount of content and we're well under control as far as delivering that...and we're going to be expanding that content hopefully in the future as well," is all I got when I asked about different regions, or weather conditions. As for changes to the time of day, "absolutely." Beyond the physical interaction and varying locales, the team seems excited for the latent speed run and otherwise competitive angle to satiate the hardcore or give greener climbers something to keep them coming back.  To that end, VR does offer technically bombastic experiences pared down in a way that "non-gamers" might find appealing without being patronizing -- like I said, The Climb was simple, but plenty of fun. "When I put a strange controller in your hand and say, 'Okay, I need you to press this combination of buttons,' you've instantly alienated a lot of people," Bowman said. The Climb also supports touch controllers and features a, "solution set that works for a variety of different input devices," so hopefully we'll be bringing you Donkey Konga free climb speed run videos next year. As for other simple experiences that turned out to be "inherently fun" in VR that Crytek might want to explore? "Can't talk about them yet because we're going to use them."
Preview: The Climb photo
Crytek goes in with engaging VR
Is free solo climbing cool? I'm sure there's been some virality in its danger in the YouTube era, but we've had, what, Cliffhanger, which was more about guns and biceps than cliff hanging, and then the arbitrary opening Missi...

Very Quick Tips: MechWarrior Online

Dec 14 // Nic Rowen
Movement: Mechs are large, clumsy machines that move at a deliberate pace. There is no strafing side-to-side for these beasts and accelerating or coming to a stop takes a moment, so you really need to think about where you are going before you commit yourself to a course. If you’re piloting anything heavier than a light mech, always plan your actions out instead of moving willy nilly, or you might get caught in a crossfire with no way to retreat. Remember that you will always move in the direction your legs are pointed, not necessarily where you are looking. A mech's torso can swivel like a turret while its legs take it in a different direction. It may be helpful (and hilarious) to picture them as tanks on stilts. The C and F buttons will center your aim in the forward direction of your mech, or bring your legs to the same bearing as where you are aiming. Being able to center your view or movement after a disorienting fight can be a lifesaver. Try the tutorial and some of the newbie UI options if you have trouble getting the hang of it. Aiming and locking:  One of the odd things about MWO is that there are two different aiming reticles on the HUD representing weapons mounted on the arms and legs. The arm-lock feature will be enabled by default on new accounts, which means the arm and torso weapons will move and aim in sync. Turn that crap off right away. Learning to aim independently with the arms and torso is a crucial skill that you should start developing sooner rather than later. The torso crosshairs' range of motion is limited by a mech's ability to bend and pivot. Considering we're talking about robots the size of small apartment buildings, they're typically not very agile. Being able to independently aim with the arms allows you to strike at more angles. But it also means you need to be careful when firing weapons from both groups as once -- it can be easy to take your arms way off target while trying to make a slight adjustment with your torso. Coordinate your firing groups accordingly. Pressing R will lock on to the nearest enemy mech you can see, or indirectly if a teammate has a lock on someone. They cover this in the tutorial, but I want to stress it: PRESS R. The number one thing you can do to improve your play as a new player is to be constantly acquire locks. Locking onto a mech not only shows you where they are and the range they are from you (important since every weapon has a maximum range) but their status information and armor condition, absolutely essential for knowing what you are up against and where you should aim. Pressing R is love. Pressing R is life. People who don't press R are bad people. They don’t have souls. Don’t be one of those people. Heat:  Mechs build up heat as they fire weapons and shut down if you push it too far. If you're desperate to get off one more shot while riding the line, you can override the automatic shutdown by pressing the O key by default. This is some risky business though as every moment you spend past the heat threshold will cook the internals of your mech. Make sure that shot is worth gambling against an embarrassing suicide. When building a mech, you need to find a balance between firepower and the cooling required to use it. Having a huge arsenal of weapons won't do much good if you can only fire them every 30 seconds or so. At the same time, being able to repeatedly fire a single laser till the end of time is just going to tickle the enemy. Generally, it’s better to run a little hotter and practice good fire discipline than to run super cool, but keep it sane. There are some byzantine rules about linking too many of the same weapons together commonly referred to as “ghost heat.” In an effort to combat front-loaded boat builds that pack all their offensive punch into a single mech annihilating strike, a balance change was made a long time ago that punishes mechs with exponential amounts of heat for firing several of the same weapon in one salvo. For example, firing three PPCs at once builds a toasty four PPC blasts worth of heat while firing four at once is all but guaranteed to crash a mech into an insta-shutdown. You can get around this by staggering your fire, but it's still something to watch out for (the mechlab will warn you when building a mech that runs this risk). Combat:  Mechs are designed to take a beating, especially if you know how to roll with the punches. Instead of having a pool of HP that is depleted until death, damage in MWO is handled on a component-by-component basis. Mechs are made up of several parts with a layer of armor on each and an internal health value underneath. Knowing where to shoot (and where to take shots) is essential. You can shamble around like some horrible 90-foot-tall Frankenstein's monster after losing your arms, side-torsos, and even a leg. But if the internals of your center core are destroyed, the cockpit in the head gets melted, or both legs are disabled, you're done. Knowing how to tank damage by intentionally exposing expendable parts of your mech to cover vulnerable ones is probably the single biggest dividing line between ace pilots and average players. Twisting your torso to spread damage evenly between components when under fire will sustain you where others fall. It's better to lose half your armor over all your arms and torso pieces than to have an exposed chunk where your internals are vulnerable and full armor everywhere else. Don't get tunnel vision while fighting. Mechs are slow and move in predictable directions. You can afford to take your eyes off an enemy for a second to twist and take a shot in the shoulder instead of the chest. The dark side to this knowledge is that it can also be exploited. Weapons that do all of their damage in one front-loaded burst (PPCs, IS auto-cannons, etc.) can do full damage on a single component and there is little an opponent can do about it. Some mechs are intentionally built with an asymmetric design that puts most of the firepower on one side of the mech. This is a blessing and a curse. When riding these, you can use the entire other side to soak up damage, making your mech's arm a ghetto shield and that entire side torso a wall of meat for enemies to chew through. When a side torso is destroyed, damage done to it will bleed over into the center core, but only at a 50% rate, so it's better to take shots to a damaged side than straight on. The downside is that it puts all your eggs in one basket. Lose the side of your mech with all the guns and you might as well call it “GG.” Along with the different limbs and sections of a mech, individual pieces of equipment like weapons can also be destroyed once a mech loses its armor. Occasionally, it can be a good idea to try and disarm an opponent before going for the kill (the Hunchback with its huge shoulder cannon is the classic example). Gauss rifles explode when destroyed and often rip an entire side of a mech apart when they go, so pay attention to what your enemy is packing and where. Contrary to what some people may tell you, there is no way to specifically target a weapon (shooting the barrel of a gun is no better than shooting the area right beside it, and no, heating up the area with lasers before shooting it with ballistics does nothing. I can't believe some of these rumors are still around). The game rolls an RNG when an exposed area is hit to see what, if any, piece of equipment in a component is damaged. Machine guns and the shotgun like LBX cannons have an increased chance to damage equipment and Clan targeting computers can improve those odds as well. When building a mech, it's a good idea to pad a sensitive piece of equipment if possible by stacking expendable things like heat sinks and electronics to better your odds. Oh yeah, there is a chance that ammo can explode if hit by enemy fire, so keep that extra ammo in the knees where it will do the least harm. Building your mech:  Despite several redesigns over the years, customizing a mech in the mechlab is still a Kafka-esque nightmare of menus, drop-down lists, and microscopic fine print. I guess building robots is going to be complicated no matter how you try and slice it. Being effective in the mechlab is just as important as being effective in the battlefield though, so you're going to have to learn its quirks sooner or later. I recommend tinkering around with your builds in a third-party mech builder like Smurfy when trying to plan out your changes. It's a cleaner interface that's easier to use and you won't be risking thousands of your space-dollars on an accidental mis-click. Always invest in the double-heatsink upgrade if a mech doesn't come with it. Despite more than a few attempts at balancing it out, double-heatsinks are ALWAYS worth taking, and mechs that don't run them are obsolete out of the garage. Endo-steel always saves more weight than the ferro-fibrous upgrade and takes up the same number of critical slots, so always go for that one first between the two. Your first robots (hopefully on the cheap):  Building a garage of personalized killer robots is one of the best parts of MechWarrior. However, mechs are expensive, C-bills don’t grow on trees, and garage space is at a premium, so you want to make the best purchasing decisions you can. Accounts start with four mech bays (essentially character slots) for you to fill in with your own mechs by default. Seems like plenty, but they fill up fast. Progression in the mech skill trees depends on owning three chassis of the same kind of mech, so four bays will limit you to one particular brand of ride, or require some extremely tedious re-selling and re-buying. Mech bays can only be purchased with real money unfortunately, but diligent spendthrifts can earn free ones by participating in fairly regular weekend events and dipping their toes into the various faction play options (you unlock a free mechbay fairly early in the progression for each house or clan and are free to bounce between them after fleecing them for the reward). When buying a mech, you have to consider the cost of equipping it as well as the flat cost of the mech. Upgrades like endo-steel frames and double heat sinks are essential and bloat the sticker price of a mech. XL engines are used in several popular Inner Sphere mechs and cost millions of C-Bills on their own. Again, pre-planning your builds in a third-party builder is a smart move. You can move engines around between mechs, so try and purchase ones that you can reuse in several mechs (my single XL 255 engine is swapped between basically half of my medium and light mechs). The XL 300 is also used in many popular builds and might be a wise investment. You’ll notice when buying mechs that there is a divide between Inner Sphere tech and Clan tech. For folks unfamiliar with BattleTech lore, these basically represent two different sides of a galactic conflict. Clan mechs cost more than their IS equivalents, but you get what you pay for -- and here is the part of the guide where I make a lot of enemies -- because Clan stuff is generally better. Outside of any lore affiliations, in-game, the choice between Clan and IS represents a difference in power and playstyle. Clan mechs come equipped with XL engines (that don’t explode when you lose a side compared to the fragile IS equivalent), double heat sinks are standard, and many come with upgrades like endo-steel pre-installed. So while the sticker price is higher, it’s also a little closer to what you actually pay in the long run. By and large, Clan tech is lighter, hits harder, and has greater range than IS tech. On the downside, Clan weapons tend to fire in volleys or bursts and their lasers take longer to do full damage (all the more reason to twist and spread the damage). The potential to do A LOT more damage than IS mechs exists, but you need a steady hand to really take advantage of it. Clan weapons also generate more heat on average. In default game modes, you aren't locked into either side and are free to fill your garage with whatever mechs you want. If you plan on getting deep into the Community Warfare aspect of the game though, you will naturally want to focus on one team eventually. On the bright side for the IS, several mechs have positive “quirks” that let them leverage unique attributes with certain weapons, or give them a little more durability than their armor rating may imply. If you pay attention and build towards them, some IS mechs can be just as powerful (or more) than Clan mechs and cheaper if you can swap around parts. On the IS side, the Blackjack line of mechs are relatively cheap, has great high-mounted weapon hardpoints (they can peek over a ridge and fire without exposing too much of themselves) and thanks to a few quirks, can do surprising damage (the 1X with six medium lasers in the arms is a beast). You can also look into the heavier Thunderbolts with laser quirks if you want to make an impression, or the nimble Firestarter if the idea of backstabbing larger mechs appeals to you. For the Clans, the medium weight Stormcrow packs all the firepower of a heavy (and maybe some assaults) while staying incredibly mobile. Lovely hardpoint placements high on the torso and nose of the mech make it easy to use. The Timberwolf heavy is also a great (if expensive) choice with a ton of build flexibility -- it’s the poster child of the franchise for a reason. Good luck! For a “very quick tips” post this guide went on, didn’t it? There are a lot of moving parts to keep track of in MWO and it can seem bewildering when starting out, but with a little practice and some patience, you’ll be reducing giant robots to scrap heaps in no time.
MWO tips photo
All systems nominal
With MechWarrior Online hitting Steam, there are bound to be a lot of new pilots climbing into the cockpit for the very first time. But getting started might not be the easiest thing in the world. MechWarrior is a little more...

Review: Devil's Third

Dec 11 // Chris Carter
Devil's Third (PC, Wii U [reviewed])Developer: Valhalla Game StudiosPublisher: Valhalla Game Studios (PC), Nintendo (Wii U)MSRP: $59.99 (Wii ), free-to-play multiplayer (PC)Released: August 28, 2015 (EU), December 11, 2015 (US) / TBA (PC) Let's start with the campaign. It's puzzling why Nintendo got involved, and thought "yeah we should sign our name to this." Writers and fans alike have debated the merits of Bayonetta's titular character for years, noting that despite the low brow humor, Bayonetta's sexuality can be seen as an element of power, where she is constantly in control. That's on top of the fact that Platinum's pair of Bayonetta games are two of the most storied titles in the entire genre. But with Devil's Third, I'm struggling to really find anything worthwhile here. Now, I don't have a problem with pulpy, crass works in theory, but not all of them are created equal. Instead of an interesting character like Bayonetta or the campy (pre-Ninja Theory) Dante, we get Ivan -- one of the deadliest prisoners currently being held in Guantanamo Bay, but generic at heart. From there, Itagaki installs some of his famous military-based storytelling, involving a man stuck in the middle of his ideals and a government organization (in this case, the United States government). Satellites all across the world have been destroyed, creating chaos, and it's up to Ivan to put down his former comrades and put a stop to it. From the moment I started the adventure, my expectations were immediately curbed. Dialogue never really amounts to much more than boring, unmemorable lines like "that dude don't look like bullshit to me," and so on. Whereas I can usually recall a cheesy rant from a classic character like Krauser in a game like Resident Evil 4, nothing sticks out to me in Devil's Third throughout the entire five-hour campaign experience. As for the controls, they are much more manageable than you've probably heard. Yes the game is a technical mess, but I didn't have trouble acclimating with either the GamePad or the more desirable Wii U Pro Controller, especially when I came to terms that it was basically a PS2-era experience. If you have issues controlling a camera with a right analog stick you may have some problems, but for the most part, it works. [embed]324540:61465:0[/embed] Melee is swift and effective, with "fast" and "strong" variable attacks, followed by Arkham-like finishers (but in this case they usually lead to decapitations). Most levels start you off with a weapon in-hand like a katana, but you can also pick up items Final Fight style and use them throughout the mission. Close combat is probably my favorite part, but the level design seldom actually makes use of it, most of the time relegating players to shooting sequences. There's a section in the third level that pits the player against a series of melee enemies in a tight arena, and at that point, I saw flashes of a great game, only to be let down again moments later. Gunplay is enacted by way of first-person aiming, which did take some getting used to. The fact that it operates like an FPS is jarring, especially when the poor inconsistent framerate kicks in, and the hit detection goes awry. Sometimes you'll hit someone square in the chest and score a headshot, and vice-versa. The same goes for the cover system, which includes instant snapping to terrain, and doesn't work occasionally (both in the sense that cover doesn't provide cover, or you can't snap to it). Itagaki has gone on record as saying that members of the press didn't have the "skill" to play the game, partially stating that the GamePad (the default controller) isn't ideal. Well my friend, as someone who has been playing hardcore action games for years on the highest Dante Must Die-esque difficulty settings, and used a Wii U Pro Controller for this review, I can safely say that the game has a few mechanical problems that are not related in any way to skill. What really let me down was the linear design of the missions themselves. There is a level of verticality to their design in some cases due to the ability to jump and wall climb in certain areas, but for the most part, they are a series of straightforward paths. There's absolutely not enough discovery present, which is a shame as the Itagaki-led Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden 2 had some incredible secrets buried underneath the surface of their nuanced stages. Then you have the uninspired boss fights, several of which follow the standard "throw lots of guys at you to make it harder" (adds) school of thought. There are a few glimmers of hope though in these mostly humanoid encounters, particularly the Saha battle, which brought me back to the Krauser fights in Resident Evil 4. Those parts, like the aforementioned melee arena are fleeting, however, and the short nature of the campaign facilitates that they are few and far between. Okay, so that's the disappointing campaign knocked out, but there's another major element to Devil's Third -- the multiplayer. Simply put, this is far more robust than the story, with tons of rewards, silly cosmetic options, and gear to choose from. Players will have the chance to start off in a training ground to try out every weapon in the game (though you need to acquire in-game currency to buy them over time), and then pledge support to clans for large turf war-like battles, or participate casually in 16-player combat. The action system works far better here with human opponents, and the penchant for wackiness is extremely high. There's a high skill ceiling involved, and action fans will no doubt be able to stretch their legs a bit in this unconventional shooter. You're basically forced to use every tool at your disposal, like the slide and shoot ability, which you don't necessarily need to utilize in the campaign, to succeed. There is a caveat though. There is no option for offline play, split-screen, or bots. There are 10 modes available that span a number of fun game types, but in the end, who will play them? Sadly, it has been confirmed by the developers themselves that US and European players cannot play with one another, so there isn't even a large pool readily available. I'm struggling to find games, alongside of severe connection issues at launch. This is on top of the fact that Nintendo buried it in the US eShop so that it's difficult to find, and that there's a severely limited run of retail copies out in the wild. The best part of the game may not even be consistently playable in America, which is a damn shame. After sensing a sinking ship, Valhalla Game Studios was smart to start development of the free-to-play PC version of Devil's Third. Multiplayer is easily the shining star of the experience, and I can see a lot of people picking it up with the right marketing. That day is not today though, and not with the Wii U version of the game. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer. Nintendo of America did not send out review copies for Devil's Third.]
Devil's Third photo
Well, it has multiplayer...
Devil's Third has been in the pipeline for so long, that any given year I completely forgot about it. Announced in 2010, after the infamous Tomonobu Itagaki left Tecmo in 2008, the game has been in development limbo, pas...

Review: Hearthstone: League of Explorers

Dec 10 // Chris Carter
Hearthstone: League of Explorers (Android, iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Blizzard EntertainmentPublisher: Blizzard EntertainmentReleased: November 12, 2015 to December 10, 2015 MSRP: $19.99 for all four wings The basic setup has been pared down a bit, and I'm mostly fine with it. Instead of focusing on five wings, League has four, strewn about over the course of four weeks (skipping an additional week for the Thanksgiving holiday). It's maddening sometimes to have to wait to access another wing that you paid for, but that's mostly because Hearthstone constantly leaves me wanting more. This expansion really delivers with its single-player scenarios, topping any other fight before it. That's primarily due to the "choose your own adventure" sections, where players will have to deal with an event rather than face a specific enemy. You'll be able to play the odds by taking a high-risk, high-reward option or play it safe, and in the end, strategy usually wills out. Other fights involve mechanics like a staff that makes you invulnerable, and a boss that persistently fills your side with useless minions that explode over time. From a lore perspective, there's a decent amount of references here for fans, from a duel with Lady Naz'jar in the ruined city, to a showdown with Archaedas in Uldaman. I never thought Blizzard would one day make a card game and base it on the rich Warcraft world that it's spent decades developing, but I'm glad it did. As for the other bits, Heroic (hard) versions are still in, and although Hero challenges are a little too easy and straightforward this time around, each one rewards you with one card, so they're still worth playing. [embed]324539:61475:0[/embed] The new cards are also rather disruptive, in a good way. The main characters (pictured above) drastically alter some decks, and a few even allow for completely new deck themes. My personal favorite is Sir Finley Mrrgglton (love that name), a 1-mana 1/3 card that allows players to swap their hero power. It's such a tiny thing, but the ability to use hero powers interchangeably can alter the course of a match. I've also been using the Summing Stone in a few of my decks, which summons a random minion based on the cost of any spell used while it's active. Other cards like Tomb Spiders and Jeweled Scarabs "discover" new minions. Like the themes before it, the types of cards in League are cohesive, and fun to use. Murloc decks in general also got a huge buff, with "Anyfin can Happen" (a 10-mana card that summons seven dead Murlocs), and the Tinyfin (a 0-cost 1/1 card that essentially buffs other Murlocs). Hearthstone: League of Explorers is probably my favorite expansion yet for the game. I feel like Blizzard iterates for every release, and I hope this isn't the end of the adventures to come, as I vastly prefer them to card-only expansions. Maybe next time we'll see even crazier mechanics, like the co-op fight that was only used once in a Tavern Brawl. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Hearthstone review photo
Cheerio
Blizzard is doing a great job of keeping Hearthstone players invested. In addition to the typical daily quest, weekly Tavern Brawl, and Arena schemes invented to reward people with new decks on a constant basis, it has a...

Nominees for Destructoid's Best Vita Game of 2015

Dec 09 // Laura Kate Dale
Best Vita Game of 2015 OlliOlli2 Grim Fandango Remastered Persona 4: Dancing All Night Resident Evil: Revelations 2 Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires Super Star Wars Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax [Incomplete products like Steam Early Access titles, and episodic titles that are not fair to assess as stand alone experiences, without a full episode count, were not eligible for this year's awards. The cutoff for entry into Destructoid's 2015's Game of the Year awards is December 4, 2015.]
Vita GOTY photo
Slip into something more portable
Oh, hey there reader, you've just caught me at that time of year where I and the other Destructoid editorial staff are beginning the long and often vicious process of putting together our Game of the Year awards. First come t...

Review: SteamWorld Heist

Dec 09 // Chris Carter
SteamWorld Heist (3DS [reviewed], PC, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One)Developer: Image & FormPublisher: Image & FormMSRP: $19.99 ($16.99 until December 31, with a 3DS theme)Released: December 10, 2015 (3DS), TBA (PC, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One) Although Heist is confirmed to take place in the same universe as Dig, the only thing that's remotely similar is the art style. Set in the future after the presumed fictional wild west period, the cast of the game is now spacebound, complete with more advanced weaponry at their disposal. The star of the narrative is Piper, captain of a smuggling ship who gets wrapped up in the ongoing conflict with pirates. Along the way you'll pick up more cast members to add to your home ship, Mass Effect style, all of whom boast unique abilities and statlines. The presentation is just as charming as Dig to boot, with gibberish dialogue (outside of the announcer), memorable characters, and some awesome vocal music tracks. One thing I wasn't too keen on though was the lack of character development, despite the fast-moving plot that gives you plenty of excuses to blow stuff up. While I felt very connected to Dig due to the smaller scale of its world that left me wanting more, the galactic conflict of Heist wasn't quite as compelling. Gameplay-wise, gone is the action platformer conceit, as things are now at a more deliberate pace. Think of how Valkyria Chronicles works -- players get a limited amount of movement, and can perform one action, including a skill or an attack, before their turn ends. You'll get to aim manually, and target any body part or object you wish. You can also opt to sprint further than your allotted movement, though it will immediately end your turn. Many strategy RPGs have used this same system, but I was surprised at how well it works in Heist's 2D space. [embed]324048:61439:0[/embed] Action is relatively fast-going, and there are a ton of nuances built into the combat system to constantly keep things interesting. For instance, weapon loadouts drastically change the way one approaches a situation, as some guns have laser sights, different rates of fire, or new ammo types altogether. When you add in the fact that headshots increase the chance for a critical hit, and that you can knock off enemy hats to add to your collection (of which there are nearly 100), it gets even more interesting. The whole equipment system alone is well crafted, from the way it starts off manageable and eventually ramps up, to the utility of the items in general. Players will have to choose two items per character, shifting their builds significantly and essentially turning them into new playstyles. Selling items is as easy as pressing a button, which makes inventory management effortless and fun without being too streamlined for its own good. Items like extra movement shoes, armor that restricts movement, and healing packs all come into play, and can be used in a static manner or more dynamically as a reaction to each scenario. It's deep without being too overwhelming, so newcomers shouldn't have any issues acclimating to it -- especially since you can alter the difficulty setting on every mission. It helps that maps are always interesting as well, providing multiple paths of entry even earlier into the experience. Because of how open each arena is, placement of your party is important, and finding cover can be relatively difficult when nearly all of it can be destroyed or blown up depending on the situation. There are so many variables involved in every level that missions never truly felt the same, even if I was repeating them to pick up some loot I missed, or clear an objective I previously failed. SteamWorld Heist is both a great entry point for people who normally shy away from strategy games and a good recommendation for veterans. With a deep combat system and a sliding difficulty scale, pretty much everyone can find something they'll like. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
SteamWorld Heist review photo
Smugglers with hearts of gold
SteamWorld Dig is a criminally underrated game. Although some were quick to judge its short length, it's the perfect thing to pick up and play at the drop of a hat, and the pacing is basically perfect. Heist is a co...

Review: Fast Racing Neo

Dec 08 // Laura Kate Dale
Fast Racing Neo (Wii U)Developer: Shin'en MultimediaPublisher: Shin'en MultimediaReleased: December 10, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Fast Racing Neo is an arcade-style racing game that really captures a feeling of extreme speed from the get go. Environments stretch and blur as you fly around hairpin turns, jumps land with an immense thud if you're not lined up correctly, and every collision feels like a fist strapped to a lightning bolt smacked into solid concrete. The racing is immensely fast, as the name makes clear, and the sense of weight and substance behind vehicles helps every movement feel important, responsive, and in control. Considering the speed at which tracks fly past, the design of the game is stunning. Environments from tropical roadways to interstellar future tubes all feel distinct and memorable, with turns, hazards, and beneficial points well signposted. Turns are clear from a distance, and every design element is colored in such a way that it's recognizable as a neon point in the distance. [embed]324776:61432:0[/embed] The main feature that mechanically sets Neo apart from comparable super speed racing games is an engine color switching mechanic. By tapping the left bumper on your controller, you can switch the color of your glowing neon engines between blue and orange mid-race. These colors correspond to glowing sections on the track which will boost your vehicle speed considerably, as well as match up with boost jumps. The key to maximizing your speed is keeping up with the colors as they switch to maintain boosts and cut corners on tracks. The risk involved in the system is that there is a substantial drop in speed if your color clashes with a boost pad or jump you tried to use. If you touch a blue pad with orange engines, you'll find every other vehicle on the track zooming past you within seconds. The potential rewards are high, but if you're unsure, you may be better off avoiding these rewards in the heat of the moment. Also on the track are orbs that fill up a manual boost meter, which almost doubles your speed and allows you to push through vehicles that you collide with, knocking them aside with priority. The game boasts local and online multiplayer, which both work surprisingly well. Online races seemed to be lag free. The hectic pace is maintained throughout with minimal drops from races. Local multiplayer was done via split-screen, and while there was a visible drop in resolution, the sense of speed remains and it was still clear enough what was going on. It also features "Hero Mode," which ups the speed considerably, requires players to finish in first place, mirrors every track, and causes your manual boost meter to double as a shield meter. This gametype is quite frankly ludicrous, and gave me a real challenge to tackle once the main cups were cleared. Oh, before I forget, the whole game is playable on the Wii U GamePad in single-player, and it holds up really nicely on that smaller screen. Fast Racing Neo made a strong impression right off the bat, and is easily one of my favorite games this year. It's fast, it's responsive, it has a compelling color-switching mechanic, and Hero Mode provides a stupidly fast-paced challenge that's going to last me quite some time. I have very little bad to say about this game beside the fact that the resolution dips in split-screen. When that's the worst you can say about a game, it's pretty darn impressive. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Fast Racing Neo photo
So fast the paint's peeling off my car
In the three years since the launch of the Wii U, one of the most notably absent Nintendo properties on the console has been F-Zero. The series, which focused on futuristic fast-paced track racing, has been dormant for over a...

Review: Earth Defense Force 2: Invaders from Planet Space

Dec 08 // Jed Whitaker
Earth Defense Force 2: Invaders from Planet Space (PlayStation Vita, PS TV)Developer: SandlotPublisher: XSEED GamesReleased: December 8, 2015MSRP: $29.99 If you're like me, you've played every EDF game and know what to expect when it comes to them, and this iteration doesn't break from the formula. In this enhanced remake of the second game in the EDF series -- originally only released for PS2 in Japan and Europe -- you'll be playing as one of three classes: Infantry, Pale Wing, or Air Raider. Infantry is your basic soldier that uses weapons you'd find in most modern day armed forces: assault rifles, sniper rifles, rocket launchers and so on. Pale Wing, on the other hand, is a female soldier with a jetpack and futuristic weapons; she moves slowly and is mostly useless on the ground while being nimble in the sky. Air Raider is a new addition that wasn't in the original release, and it mostly uses deployable weapons and plays more of a support role. In my playthrough, I sampled each class before decided to stick with the familiar infantry, as they just seem like an all around fit when playing solo while Pale Wing and Air Raider might fair a bit better in multiplayer. While up to four player online co-op is available, I was not able to test the functionality before release, so I can only assume the other classes fair a bit better online. [embed]325189:61454:0[/embed] Each of the three classes have their sets of weapons that are unlockable via pickups randomly dropped by enemies. This mixed with the six available difficulty levels adds a lot of replayability, on top of completing the game with each class; if you're a completionist, you'll get your $29.99 worth here.  Initially, I was concerned this being a port of the second game in the series would mean more repetition and less variety, but I was pleased to find out that wasn't the case. EDF2 has the best collection of enemies of any of the other games in the series. Aside from giant ants and spiders there are rolly pollies, flying saucers, centipedes, and daddy long legs-like walkers that are taller than skyscrapers. While this doesn't completely quash the repetitiveness of killing giant bugs and UFOs every stage, it certainly helps. Even the notorious slowdown that the EDF series is infamous for is mostly missing. In my playthrough, I experienced maybe two or three instances of choppiness due to the amount of enemies on screen, which surprising considering the Vita isn't exactly a powerhouse.  It isn't all explosions and sunshine, though. Most levels offer a tank, a speeder bike, and a helicopter, all of which control terribly. The tank is slow and clunky, the speeder bike is too fast to be controllable and useful, and the helicopter's guns aren't strong enough to be of use if you're lucky enough to hit something with them, and flying too high causes lots of pop in. On top of the terrible driving controls, the aiming just plain sucks for vehicles, mostly due to lack of crosshairs, which are provided when outside the vehicle.  Some stages take place in the city at night, where basically everything is pitch black (to a fault) other than windows in skyscrapers that shine brightly with a fuzzy glow around them, which just looks plain awful. Otherwise, graphically EDF2 looks like basically every other game in the series, which isn't surprising considering some of the levels feel almost identical if they aren't actually identical.  Aside from those issues, the main problem I had with the game was some enemies not being aggressive, instead opting to hang around in the far reaches of maps. Nearly every level's objective is 'murder all the bugs' and there was at least four or five times I had to either hunt and search to find the last enemies hiding spot, or slowly walk across the whole map. While tedious, these walks weren't the end of the world for me, just minor inconveniences of my fun-filled destructive romp. Earth Defense Force 2 may not be a brand new game per se, but has enough original content to keep it feeling fresh alongside the other recent releases in the series. With a lot of replayability, online four-player co-op, and a budget price tag it is easy to recommend to Vita owners looking for some campy over-the-top action in spite of its flaws.  EDF! EDF! EDF! EDF! EDF! [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] EarDefense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair (PlayStation 4)Developer: SandlotPublisher: XSEED GamesReleased: December 8, 2015MSRP: $49.99
Review: EDF2 photo
Honey I Shrunk the Kids 2: Buggernauts
Two words. Giant. Bugs. Also giant spaceships, giant kaiju, and giant explosions. If you're looking for campy sci-fi action on your Vita look no further than Earth Defense Force 2: Invaders from Planet Space.

Final Fantasy VII Remake 'would not fit into a single release,' includes cross-dressing and new ATB combat

Dec 07 // Steven Hansen
[embed]324562:61408:0[/embed] Final Fantasy VII Remake also aims for, "a seamless active battle." Again with the lengthier answer, Nomura says, "Regarding the battle speed and tempo, for the sake of a stress-free battle, we want to do something on the level of Dissidia Final Fantasy. As far as the degree of action goes, it’s Dissidia Final Fantasy, then Kingdom Hearts, then Final Fantasy VII Remake. There won’t be any actions that require a technique. By using the new system, we want to do action battles while also being able to fight while thinking strategically."  The ATB gauge (and Limit Breaks) still exists despite this, but "with new ways to be used." You can see the gauge in the video and should pay attention to when it fills and turns red (Barret's attack at 1:22 in the trailer). There will still be three party members, but you can switch freely between them (or just play as one of them, which means AI will handle the others and you can do a Final Fantasy VII run through as just Yuffie). Cloud still cross-dresses for Don Corneo, too. Though there will be other story changes, according to Kitase, "I don’t want the remake to end as something nostalgic. I want to get the fans of the original version excited.We’ll be making adjustments to the story with this feeling in mind." Other tidbits: there are other external collaborators besides just CyberConnect2, "Final Fantasy VII Remake" is the full title (if you couldn't tell), and Advent Children's character models are too old and "deformed" (the bodies are too unrealistic) to be used. From the Famitsu interview, it's noted that, " CyberConnect2’s production tastes differ from that of Square Enix" and that, "Director Tetsuya Nomura was annoyed by the direction of the latest trailer, so Square Enix changed it to be closer to its own style," which I guess implies CyberConnect2 produced it first? Also, I'm starting a tech sex startup called Cyber2Connect. ファイナルファンタジーVII リメイク』北瀬佳範氏&野村哲也氏に訊く分作の意図――バトルはATBありのアクションに!? [Famitsu]『FFVII リメイク』のバトルにはお馴染みのリミットブレイクも搭載。分作にした経緯にも迫る[Dengeki]Final Fantasy VII Remake details: reason for multi-part release, CyberConnect2 collaboration, more [Gematsu]
FFVII Remake details photo
Three person party with free switching
Now that we have the first in-game (Unreal Engine 4) trailer for Final Fantasy VII Remake, people are facing the tangible result of months-long concern over Square's previously discussed decision to change the battle system. ...

PC Port Report: Helldivers

Dec 07 // Nic Rowen
Helldivers (PC)Developer: Arrowhead Game StudiosPublisher: PlayStation Mobile Inc.Released: December 7, 2015MSRP: $19.99 If you were foolish like me and never played Helldivers on the PS4 when it came out, it's a top down four-player co-op shooter with an emphasis on teamwork and coordination. You play as a squad of Helldivers, a group of all-purpose space-marines, representing the peaceful (and not at all totalitarian, xenophobic, or belligerent) world of Super Earth as they “defend” their sovereign nation-planet against the scum of the galaxy. Cyborgs, giant bugs, and robots all threaten the future well-being of Super Earth (by not giving up their resources and getting in line fast enough), and it's your squad's job to either bring them democracy or hot death (note: there is no “democracy” button on your controller, just a trigger). The titular Helldivers have access to all the typical space-marine gear: machine guns, flamethrowers, miniature walking mechas, as well as specialized “stratagems” that can be called in from headquarters to be airdropped into the field. Stratagems range from supply drops and reinforcement respawns, to orbital bombardments and quick-deploying auto-turrets. All you have to do is stop firing, take a knee, tap out a quick series of directional movements (think the Konami code, but for strafing runs instead of 30 extra lives) and toss out a drop beacon. A total snap while fending off never-ending hordes of flesh-devouring bugs the size of school buses, right? Of course, being the biggest badasses Super Earth has to offer, the Helldivers are the most lethal thing on the battlefield -- even to each other. If you're not accidentally clipping a buddy with a spray of machine gun fire, or (oops) crushing half of your squad underneath a poorly placed supply drop, you're not bringing democracy to the front lines hard enough. Helldivers plays collateral damage for laughs, and stacks the deck in favor of hilarious live-fire "happy accidents." Mostly, these quirks add to the charm of Helldivers and only get frustrating if you happen to be playing with a madman who can't keep his grenades to himself or seems to be executing squad members on purpose. [embed]324957:61443:0[/embed] Thankfully, multiplayer support on the PC version is every bit as smooth and easy as the PS4 version. Hosting a game or joining one in progress is effortless and linking up with friends or kicking a toxic player is just as simple as it should be. Helldivers features built-in VOIP (which is actually enabled as an open mic by default as I found out accidentally to my teammates delight and my embarrassment. You can, of course, set it to push-to-talk if you prefer) but there are also quick-response radio options ("roger," "negative," etc.) if you're the type that doesn't like to talk into a mic, but still wants to coordinate with the rest of the team. The game has a very breezy, low-commitment feel. Unlike other multiplayer games where you can get roped into long, shitty matches, it's easy to pull up stakes and move on to greener pastures in Helldivers. Loading screens are mercifully short, inventory management and menu dithering is curtailed by a brisk timer that starts to count down as soon as one person readies up (so you're not stuck waiting on that one guy who wants to try out every cape option he has before dropping), and the actual missions are fast paced, "get in and get out" affairs. After spending a lot of time with MOBAs and games like Evolve this year, where a bad match can handily flush a half hour of precious quality game time away, I've really enjoyed the speed and ease of Helldivers lobby system. To top it off, every round I've played in the pre-release beta has been nice and stable with nary a hiccup. As always, the full release will put the game to the real test, but I'm optimistic that it will do just fine from what I've seen so far. In addition to the standard PC release, there is also a Digital Deluxe version available for $39.99 if you want to go wild. It comes stuffed with a boatload of DLC weapons, stratagems, vehicles, and extra swanky capes if you want your Helldiver to look his or her best. Personally, I feel like the regular game has enough content to unlock and play around with that you probably don't need to jump into the deep end right off the start. Small DLC packs of specific weapons and items just like the PS4 version are on the way, so you can probably wait and just cherry pick your favorites for a couple of bucks if you really want a particular outfit (or personal mecha, you know, just as an example and not something I plan on picking up as soon as its available). This is a great version of a great game. Pick it up, get some friends together, and do your part to keep Super Earth free, happy, and secure (by making every other planet broken, miserable, and reduced to a pile of ashes). [This PC Port Report is based on a press beta build of the game which was provided by the publisher.]
Helldivers PC photo
Airdropped into my heart
Earlier in the year, Conrad Zimmerman gave the PS4 version of Helldivers his highest recommendation. He praised it for its brutal and unrelenting action, and its dedication to pitch-black humor and decidedly laissez-faire att...

Review: Fat Princess Adventures

Dec 07 // Chris Carter
Fat Princess Adventures (PS4)Developer: Fun BitsPublisher: SonyMSRP: $19.99Released: December 5, 2015 The entire gimmick this time around of Adventures is a Gauntlet-style hack-and-slash. Gone are the days of setting up elaborate base defenses and competing with other players in a giant game of Capture the Flag -- instead, you're mostly going to be pushing one of two attack buttons as you slaughter hundreds of foes on a relatively linear quest. Now, that's not inherently a bad thing, as Adventures is a competent action game with a few tricks up its sleeve. This time, the classes have been streamlined to four jobs: Warrior, Engineer, Mage, and Archer. The former two are melee based and the latter two are ranged, so it's pretty straightforward from there. As stated though the actual combat bits are quite good, despite their mindless foundation. Power attacks like a shield stun can often augment the effectiveness of other abilities, and the lock-on feature is simple to use, but flawless in execution. What I like in particular is that players can swap out classes at any time after hitting a checkpoint, which keeps things fresh through every stage, especially when more people are involved. Yep, Adventures commits to its hack-and-slash nature, and supports four players both offline and online. It's a drop-in and drop-out enabled game, so even playing solo can be enjoyable, as others will join in randomly, equip new roles, and switch up the flow of a match in an instant. Loot is also distributed rather swiftly, ensuring that you have a constant need to try out new playstyles. [embed]325020:61446:0[/embed] Having said that, the actual loot system isn't all that exciting. Sure, there are cool modifiers like a burn debuff for fire swords and the like, but none of it really transcends the realm of "slash slash slash," which is particularly grating when the enemy troops are mostly cannon fodder. But just as things are starting to get dull, an elite enemy (a la Diablo) will swoop in and grant you some new piece of loot, and all will be well again.  Once each level is completed, you can also go to the "Grindhouse" -- a mode that allows you to replay stages with extra rewards in tow, and challenge modifiers, like the restriction of using only one class. With local friends on board, this mechanic will last you quite a while. Bosses on the other hand could have used a bit more effort on Fun Bits' part. To be frank, they rely on the tired old mechanic of throwing "adds" (additional enemies) at players with reckless abandon. Some of the ideas are cool (using the overdrive mechanic as the only means of damaging a boss, or throwing cake at NPCs to power them up), but the strategy is almost always the same in the end: dodge power attacks, which are usually in a line, slash the adds, then focus the boss. In line with the uninspired boss encounters, don't expect a whole lot of substance outside of the quirky veneer. The story is rather trite, mostly consisting of a narrative that involves both princesses being captured by the evil Bitter Queen. It's something you've seen a million times before, and it's not done any better than all of the cartoons and games before it. The massive voice cast (with veterans like Nolan North, Steve Blum, and Tara Strong) does help its case though, as do the gallons of blood that flow from enemies, contrasting nicely with the cutesy fairy tale setup. Fat Princess Adventures is an enjoyable distraction for hardcore fans of the hack-and-slash genre, but now I just want a proper new Princess game. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Fat Princess review photo
I hope this leads to another core entry
I'm going to come out and say it -- Fat Princess was criminally underrated. With a charming art style and an incredibly deep combat system, it shot its way into my heart at launch, despite the fact that the community die...

PC Port Report: Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below

Dec 05 // Joe Parlock
Rig: AMD FX-8320 3.50GHz Eight-Core processor, 12GB of RAM, AMD HD 7970, Windows 10 64-Bit. Framerate measured with Raptr. Game played at the “High” graphics preset. First up, the options available leave a lot to be desired. Initially even finding some of them was a challenge, as while the basic settings like resolution and some limited graphics quality settings are available both in-game and in an external application, other settings like camera sensitivity are nestled within a maze of menu screens found once you’ve loaded up your game. While Heroes has settings for some less familiar settings like ambient occlusion and even what languages character speak in, it manages to entirely miss some of the more crucial and needed options. The two largest offenses are there being no way to control vsync, and anti-aliasing seems to be completely absent. The result is that while on a TV, the game looks perfect, but when you look at it up-close on a computer monitor, the jaggedness of the characters and environments is incredibly noticeable. Other than the anti-aliasing problem, it's gorgeous: great lighting effects, a fantastic art style, and high-quality textures. The game otherwise being so pretty makes the masses of jagged edges all the more disappointing. Framerates above 60 appear to be impossible. You’re given the option of locking the game at 60, 30, or strangely 20 FPS, but there's no option for a truly unlocked framerate. While on most configurations locking the framerate to 60 will achieve the same effect vsync would, good luck getting anything out of your expensive monitors with a higher refresh rate. In other words, if you want more control over the graphics, you’ll want to see what settings your video card’s control panel has available. While Heroes’ options aren’t exactly lacking, they aren’t comprehensive and often aren't the settings you'd most like to have control over.  As a positive, the game does have key remapping, which is nice. There’s also the ability to bind some of the usual keyboard functions to mouse buttons instead, which for some people would make things a lot easier.  [embed]324536:61395:0[/embed] Despite the generous remapping capabilities, I heavily, heavily recommend you use a controller if at all possible, because the controls are by far the biggest issue with the port. Playing it with a mouse and keyboard is uncomfortable at best, and almost impossible at worst. For starters, none of the menus can be controlled using the mouse, but require you to use the keyboard instead. It’s a massive pain considering just how many menus, maps, and dialogue sequences there are. The map even relies on you positioning a cursor over the location you want, so no mouse control just feels lazy. A bigger problem is that all the input icons show the Xbox controller buttons as opposed to keys -- even when you don't have a controller plugged into your PC. Last time I checked, my keyboard doesn’t have a right bumper, so the tutorial telling me to dash using it is a total waste of time. The only way you’ll have any luck playing Heroes with a keyboard and mouse is if you memorise the big list of key bindings. I haven't even mentioned how awful the game feels playing with a keyboard and mouse. The camera doesn’t stay rigidly locked to the character, so moving side-to-side will make them slowly drift to the sides of the screen, which means mouse control for the camera feels disjointed and fiddly and when in a hectic encounter, it can make you flat-out lose your character on the busy, cluttered screen. Even once I’d played with the settings, the mouse sensitivity feels completely off. I found it would pick up even the slightest movements and judder all over the place, and eventually it made me feel slightly sick. It wasn’t a fun experience trying not to vomit, and I found myself fighting with them more than the masses of monsters I was meant to be focusing on. After about two hours of trying to fight with the mouse, I gave up and used my Xbox 360 controller instead. The controller works far, far better and my queasiness instantly went away, so if you do decide to pick up the game, make sure you plug in a controller too. As far as optimisation and performance go, Dragon Quest Heroes ran incredibly well for me. It’s worth noting that my rig is getting on a bit now, so I’m only slightly above the recommended settings. Even then with all the settings at the highest possible, I consistently had around 45-50 FPS. Everything ran smoothly even in busy and detailed environments with tons of enemies. However, there is a huge caveat here. I’ve been playing on a system with an AMD card, but there have been complaints from some players that the game has much worse performance on Nvidia cards, especially in laptops. I’m unable to confirm this for myself as I don’t have the hardware to test the game on, but there are enough comments mentioning Nvidia performance problems for me to suggest being cautious when buying the game. Overall, while the port for Dragon Quest Heroes leaves a lot to be desired, it definitely didn't verge into unplayable territory for me. The biggest problem I found was the keyboard and mouse controls being pretty awful, but once I swapped over to playing on a controller, I found the port fine. For those who don’t like playing on a controller under any circumstances, the problems with Heroes will get very annoying very quickly. I have a slight confession to make: this is my first ever Dragon Quest game, and I only have a little experience with Dynasty Warriors. I’m by no means an expert in either series, so I won't be able to really assess how it stands up in comparison to its parents. Despite that, I did genuinely enjoy my time with Heroes. You don’t need to have ever played a Dragon Quest game to understand the story, but those who are familiar with the series will probably get more pleasure out of seeing characters from totally unconnected games meet at last. I have no idea who characters like Yangus, Nera, or Alena are in their original games, but I don't need to know to like their inclusion in Heroes. Going into it blind, I was struck by just how charming the entire thing is. Heroes is at its core about a lovely cast of characters who are all voice-acted incredibly well, going on an adventure in a very traditional, colourful and beautifully realised JRPG world. Compared to the few Warriors games I’ve played, Heroes appears to have a lot of influence from Dragon Quest’s JRPG foundations, insofar as you have to gather your party and manage their skills and equipment as they level up. Sometimes I felt like having to return to the base between every mission got in the way of the combat at the heart of the game, but ultimately it wasn’t too bad. The combat is utterly fantastic, as I would expect from a Warriors game. Mowing down dozens of enemies in flashy combos and watching as the damage counters filled the screen was brilliant. The large roster of characters all play very differently to each other, so the combat never felt repetitive or boring to me. One really neat feature is the monster coin system. Sometimes when you kill an enemy, they’ll be converted into a coin that, once used, can summon them to fight with you. Strategically collecting the stronger monster coins and redeploying them to get the tactical advantage over a wave of enemies gave the combat a bit more depth than just mashing the controller until everything died. Unfortunately while the combat never gets old, the mission structure certainly does. Sometimes you’ll get a cool mission where you have to fight your way through a level, and the boss fights are absolutely awesome. They’re often huge, and require you to think about the encounter in a new and interesting way. But after a couple of hours, you’ve more or less seen every type of mission the game has to offer, and most of them are simply variations on tower defence-plus-Dynasty Warriors. Even the progression through the chapters is often the same: head to a town in peril, fight your way through some enemies, protect a thing, and then fight the boss When the missions are good, they’re really good and a hell of a lot of fun. So it’s a huge shame that the remaining missions that pad those awesome moments are often just keeping enemies away from that level’s MacGuffin until you win. Considering how many optional side-missions there are, I would’ve hoped there was a bit more variation in what it was I was actually doing. I really like Dragon Quest Heroes. It’s colourful, cheerful, and is suitably camp for a Warriors game, and it also has genuinely involving yet accessible combat. It’s just a shame that after a few hours the missions began to feel repetitive, making playing for longer periods of time drag on a bit. Either way, as a total newcomer to Dragon Quest, it’s definitely got me interested in trying out some of the other entries in the franchise, and for long-time fans of the series there’s bound to be enough to keep you entertained for a while.  [This PC Port Report is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] [This PC Port Report is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Dragon Quest Heroes photo
A great game with some big port problems
Hot on the heels of Hyrule Warriors, Koei Tecmo released Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below. It takes the long-running and well-loved Dragon Quest series of JRPGs and throws them straigh...

Final Fantasy VII Remake photo
'You're doing this for the planet'
[extremely nerds voice] "You're doing this for the planet, same as us!" There's a bit of actual, early gameplay from the Final Fantasy VII PS4 remake announced at E3 this year. You can see a bit of the, "more realistic gamep...

Revenant Kingdom photo
New Level-5 RPG coming to PS4
I was just thinking recently about how quiet Level-5 has been with Ni no Kuni since 2013's Wrath of the White Witch and, well, there's that. During the PlayStation Experience, Namco Bandai (its international publisher) annou...

Very Quick Tips: Xenoblade Chronicles X

Dec 04 // Chris Carter
General tips: This goes first and foremost. Read. The. Manual. Read it! While we've been conditioned to ignore basically everything that isn't force-fed to us in-game, the manual will help you immensely when it comes to reading the map, and pretty much everything else. Everything will go so much smoother if you read it. Return to Eleonara periodically to see if you can upgrade your excavating capabilities. She's located right in front of the main console in New LA. Again, reading the manual will let you know which icons mean what on your GamePad map, which will inform you of when you have a New LA reward waiting. If you're going to err on one of the three choices, go for Mechanical so you can get more mining probes set up. Pick up a ton of quests, as there's no downside. Wandering around is the biggest source of enjoyment in Xenoblade Chronicles X, so you may as well take a handful of quests while you're roaming around. Often times you'll randomly find objectives out in the wild. If you're getting confused combat-wise, try to split your abilities on your hotbar to ranged and melee on each side. Personally, I go ranged on the left and melee on the right, as my character is melee-centric. It'll help you manage your constant weapon switching much easier. Bunny hop and force your way up hills -- you can traverse so much ground this way. Always stay sprinting, as hitting a wall or object will not stop your sprint. Equip your team every five levels or so from the New LA shop if you haven't acquired superior gear. Most people will probably forget to load out and upgrade every slot, but beyond that, you can socket items! Do not overlook this, as the bonuses involved can get you over that boss fight slump you're experiencing. When you get the "Follow Ball," a few chapters in, don't forget that it exists. I ended up not using it all the way up to Chapter 10, and it would have saved me some time navigating to different quests. Always try to bring an HP ability to a fight. If your character dies and doesn't get resurrected, it's game over. Sure Xenoblade Chronicles X will simply revert to the nearest zone instantly, but you want to avoid that frustration as much as possible on your core avatar. After failing on a boss several times, you can lower the level of it for the current mission. This is another option if you need that small boost to win. Speaking of bosses, Prep your TP for a boss fight if you're going into the encounter after a death. That way you'll start prepared. Notice the little icons near some of your abilities? They denote whether or not they cost or provide TP after use. Learn which ability does what. You can fast travel almost anywhere, not just to nodes. Swap through the views on your GamePad map and click anything with an orange icon. Hire people if you're having issues with a mission or boss! If you're so close every fight, like within an inch of victory on that enemy health meter, hire someone at or above your level to jump in and tip the scales. You can hire people out in the world, in the barracks, or on the PC screen near the main mission area (I recommend the latter zone as it offers up a ton of options).
Xenoblade tips photo
I'm really tipping it
Xenoblade Chronicles X is one of the most intricate JRPGs I've played in quite some time. I even ended up taking notes on a real notepad for it on a few occasions! Here are some tips to help kickstart your adventure.

Dragon's Dogma runs wonderfully on PC

Dec 03 // Patrick Hancock
Tested on: Intel i7-4770k 3.50 GHz, 8GB of RAM, Geforce GTX 970, Windows 10 Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is officially releasing on PC on January 15, so there will still be optimizations and tweaks between now and then. Honestly, though? I've encountered no technical issues whatsoever.  Here are the options included in the PC version: [embed]323834:61344:0[/embed] As you can see, the graphics menu has just about all the options players should expect, including a field-of-view setting. Playing with everything cranked up, I was able to run the game at a consistent 60 frames per second, including during the in-game cutscenes. As I mentioned, I'm only a couple of hours in, and nothing has gotten too crazy yet. Playing on a keyboard and mouse feels rather comfortable, and I'm generally not happy with third-person action games using this control scheme. The keyboard keys can be remapped, so if the defaults don't tickle your fancy, change them! The individual controller buttons cannot be changed, but there are six different control schemes provided. The game also automatically detects the controller (in my case, an Xbox One gamepad) immediately and even adjusts the button prompts. A small, but dedicated detail involves the screenshot feature. Players can pause the action and go into a specific "Share" menu option to get a screenshot (as I have done, above) to move the camera about and get a nice image. The PC version will automatically take a Steam screenshot when the Take Photo button is pressed. I expected the game to save it to some random location in My Pictures, but the developers went so far as to program Steam screenshots into this feature -- awesome! We'll have a full PC Port Report on Dark Arisen's official Steam release in January, but as of now, the outlook is very good!
Dragons Dogma PC photo
Smooth like butta
At some point, I downloaded Dragon's Dogma onto my PS3, but never got around to playing it. I'd scroll through and tell myself "some other day." Well, apparently that other day is the day it comes to PC. I hear tell that...

Review: Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege

Dec 02 // Chris Carter
Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Ubisoft MontrealPublisher: UbisoftMSRP: $59.99Release Date: December 1, 2015  First and foremost, let me make it clear that Siege is still very much a strategic game, despite an increased emphasis on action. The crux is engrossed in the "siege" concept, where two teams of players are placed on opposing sides of offense and defense. The former is tasked with infiltrating a specific area, usually a building of some sort, and the latter will put up barricades and properly booby-trap the zone to protect an objective. Defensive capabilities are quite versatile beyond placing traps, with the ability to patch up windows à la Call of Duty's zombies mode, or deploy items for the rest of your team. The sheer entropy that comes out of this simple premise is lovely. There are so many options for breaching and a litany of defensive options that no one game is the same. Players can rappel up almost any window and break in, sneak around and breach doors with charges or a good old fashioned sledgehammer, or blow up walls and create new entrances. The concept of a destructible environment is not new (games like the original Red Faction have been doing it for ages), but the development team really follows through here, with a good balance of destruction to keep things tense. Part of the variety comes from the 20 Operators, which are essentially the classes of Siege. Archetypes range from a bruiser, to a "brainy" tech girl, to a medic, but all of them have a unique twist gameplay-wise that sets them apart from one another. It's also imperative that your team works together, choosing combinations that complement each ability -- this is partially forced by the fact that the game doesn't allow two people on a team to pick the same Operator. In the end though, any combo works relatively well as long as the team is on top of things, and players don't run blindly into rooms without thinking of all of the options available. [embed]323032:61291:0[/embed] While the 5v5 asymmetrical game type is the core mode, there are also two more facets at play -- Terrorist Hunt (PVE) and Situations (single player). The former is a lot like horde mode with a twist, as players will be dropped into levels with randomized objectives and enemy placement, with three varying levels of difficulty to choose from. While I prefer the insanity of playing human opponents given the open-ended nature of the game, I really enjoyed taking breaks with the PVE mode, as it really does provide a ton of different scenarios across its 11 maps. It's tough, too, as one bad move can result in a near-death experience, requiring others to rally around your low health pool, and bust out tactics like going in a vanguard formation with a shield-wielding Operator. From what I've seen people really attempt to use a mic, and if you strive for a shooter that transcends the "point and shoot" mentality, you'll find solace with Siege. If desired, players can also go at it solo, which is a nice option for those of you who don't love being online all the time. Having said that, there is no campaign whatsoever. Instead, you'll have your pick of 11 Situations, which are very similar to Terrorist Hunt, but with their own set of challenges. For instance, finishing a level with a certain amount of health or completing specific tasks will net you instant renown. I actually really like this mode, as objectives can be completed individually, even if you fail a mission -- so there's incentive to come back over time and eventually "three-star" each Situation. It's absolutely not a substitute for a full-on story mode, but it's one of my favorite non-campaign additions in a while, in a sea of multiplayer-only shooters. As previously stated, the way these characters are unlocked will likely turn off some, but it's very much par for the course for the genre, and even ahead of the curve in many ways, actually. In fact, I'm sitting here, having only played the game for a few days, with 10 of the 20 Operators, which isn't bad at all. If you hate the idea of microtransactions on principle you'll likely be angry here, but on my end, I was easily able to ignore them and still enjoy Siege. As for server issues, I've heard reports of other platforms' lack of stability, but Siege has been very reliable for me on Xbox One in the past 48 hours. While there are occasional bouts of connection problems after booting up the game, the issue is resolved in seconds, and I've played hours-long sessions with no problems. Rainbow Six Siege has a lot going for it when it comes to the long haul. While three modes doesn't sound like a lot, the sheer volume of variables involved will result in an experience that constantly stays fresh, even with the current pool of 11 maps. While a few other major shooters have let me down this year, I think Siege is one of the games I'll be playing the most going forward.
Rainbow Six Siege photo
A new taste of Rainbow
The original Rainbow Six was one of the first squad shooters I ever played, outside of the Delta Force series (both debuted in the same year). I still remember hanging out at my friend's house with his dad, who also...

Review: Just Cause 3

Nov 30 // Patrick Hancock
Just Cause 3 (PC [reviewed], PlayStation 4, Xbox One)Developer: Avalanche StudiosPublisher: Square EnixMSRP: $59.99Release Date: December 1, 2015 Reviewed on: Intel i7-4770k 3.50 GHz, 8GB of RAM, Geforce GTX 970, Windows 10.  Just Cause 3 once again follows the exploits of Rico Rodriguez on a quest to liberate a region from a corrupt dictator, settlement by settlement. This time Rico has access to Medici, a nation under the control of Sebastiano Di Ravello. Medici is about the same size of Just Cause 2's Panau, which is to say it is huge. One big reason why Medici is a sought-after nation is due to its resource of Bavarium, a super-resource that allows for all sorts of militaristic applications. While I'm sure most players are not coming for the plot, the writers do a great job to keep the player entertained with the cast of characters involved. Rico has a handful of allies that aid him and the rebels throughout the campaign, and each character is great. Sure, they're essentially B-movie caricatures, but they're lovable caricatures. Despite the urgency and political turmoil constantly woven into each action Rico undertakes, his allies always seemed to put a big grin on my face. A lot of this comes down to two three things: the writing, voice acting, and animations. Again, the overarching narrative isn't going to blow any minds, but the moment-to-moment dialogue between the few important characters is consistently wonderful. Best of all, each voice actor delivers lines in a casual and believable way, something that is helped by realistic accompanying animations. No, there's no Bolo Santosi, but not every game is perfect. [embed]322878:61303:0[/embed] The bulk of the experience involves blowing the shit out of anything and everything. In order to take down Di Ravello, Rico must go from location to location, destroying everything owned by the evil dictator. It just so happens that about 95 percent of those items are highly explosive! When entering an area, whether it be a military base or a settlement, a list of destructible objects appear on the left side of the screen and it is the player's job to take them out. As less and less objects remain, they become more and more visible on the game's map, preventing the player from searching forever for that one last thing. The most useful tools at Rico's disposal are his grappling hooks. Not only is it possible to grapple onto a surface and travel straight to it, but Rico can use it to attach two separate items and pull them together. In Just Cause 3, it is possible to have up to six grappling hooks at a time. Six! This means twelve items can be linked to each other in a number of ways, and they can all converge on each other at once. Anyone who has played the previous game knows just how ridiculous that sounds. Okay, so there's explosives and grappling, but those aren't even the best mechanics, all things told. Movement in Just Cause 3 is easily the most fluid and beautiful system I've ever used. Seriously, I have never enjoyed moving around an open world as much as I have in Just Cause 3. There are three systems that mesh together: the grappling hook, the parachute, and, most importantly, the newly-acquired wing suit.  There's a lot of verticality to Medici, which makes flying around with the wing suit an absolute thrill. Plus, with the grappling hook available, it's possible to glide almost indefinitely at high speeds. I rarely used a vehicle to get around at all, since it was often slower and way less entertaining. The exception is when traveling over a large amount of water, since there is nothing to grapple onto and pull Rico along. Other than the campaign missions and settlements to liberate, Medici has random events, challenges, and collectibles. The random events might be to help tow someone's car to a gas station, or to prevent a group of friendly rebels from suffering the fate of a firing squad. There aren't too many varieties, but the distractions are quick and the rewards can easily be worth it. Some of the challenges are the standard "maneuvering a vehicle through rings," but others perfectly show off the game's mechanics and carefree attitude. Perhaps my favorite is a very Burnout-esque challenge that has players drive a car with a bomb strapped to it to a desired location only to jump out at the last moment to create chaos. The twist here is that, like Keanu Reeves in Speed, if the car goes below a certain speed, the bomb will explode. It's not as strict as the movie, but if a player goes too slow for too long, the challenge is failed. Others, like the wing suit courses, are also great and help hone specific skills. Players are awarded up to five "gears," depending on performance. Think of them like star ratings. Acquiring gears in certain challenge categories go towards unlocking new upgrades in those areas. For example, performing well in the Speed challenges gives Rico more upgrades for his explosives. Many of the upgrades make things simply better or more useful, like adding explosive charges, but some are more play-style driven. Players can turn these upgrades on and off at will once they are unlocked. For those looking to get more gears in challenges, keep this in mind; it is way easier to get a high score at the end of the game than it is at the beginning due to upgrades. Since this is an open world game in 2015, there's a smattering of collectibles strewn throughout Medici. I'm not one to care about them, but for those who do, Just Cause 3 has your back. If anything collectible is nearby, a small radar blip appears on the bottom of the screen that increases in signal strength as the item draws near. In addition, liberating a province (usually made of three to seven settlements) pinpoints the locations of these hidden items on the map. The biggest thing to realize while playing Just Cause 3 is it is mostly up to the player to keep things interesting. Liberating settlement after settlement does get stale, especially because they're essentially identical to one other, just with different layouts. Always using the same weapons to destroy the same objects gets old quickly. If players aren't inspired to get creative with their destruction, it's easy to get bored. The game gives the players all the tools needed to keep things fresh, but provides no tangible incentive to do so, therefore any such incentive must be intrinsically motivated. My recommendation is to keep doing challenges. By completing challenges and unlocking new upgrades, players will naturally want to play around with those upgrades. Well, what better way to test them out then when liberating a settlement? It would have been appreciated if various weapons had their own challenges, which would push players into switching it up more often. The story missions spice things up with some different objectives, but even those tend to repeat and feel "samey" after a while. Occasionally story missions will be locked, forcing the player to liberate more provinces or specific settlements before progressing. There's usually a canonical reason given for this, but it can easily lead to the player feeling burnt out. Liberating two or three provinces means going through about 15 settlements in a row. That's....a lot, especially considering how similar each one is to any other. Again, I'll offer some advice. Liberate settlements as you travel around. See a settlement? Blow the shit out of it and free those people! This will leave random settlements already completed, which means when you are forced to do so, it's much less tedious. Another way to help break the monotony is to call in Rebel Drops. These allow Rico to ask for some presents like vehicles, weapons, and explosives, to be dropped right in front of him. They are limited, but the system is much easier to understand and operate than the previous game's black market. If the feeling of staleness is creeping up, call in a rebel drop containing any assortment of items, and find the best way to use them in tandem! Visually, Just Cause 3 looks great, especially in motion on PC. The visuals are highly customizable with the standard graphical options expected on the platform. I ran everything at "Very High" and got a constant 60 frames-per-second... once I turned the motion blur off. I experimented with many different settings, and the lack of motion blur easily yielded the best performance. I did have some rare instances of artifacting, but was never able to actually reproduce them intentionally. I also ran in to a terrible glitch where Rico was performing the "dammit I got hit" animation every three-seconds, preventing me from doing, well, anything. A quick restart fixed the issue and I never saw it again, fortunately enough. Then, there's the issue with signing in to the Square Enix servers. The first thing the game does upon booting it up is to log in to the servers. The game is not always-online, but wants to connect to show players leaderboards for a variety of categories. These are things like longest time in a wing suit or most consecutive headshots. If a player loses connection, it pauses the game immediately and tries to reconnect. If it can't, the player can elect to go into offline mode. Great! Offline mode sounds wonderful. Except it tries to reconnect all the damn time. After a short while of being in offline mode, whenever the player checks the map, pauses the game, or initiates a challenge, the game will try to reconnect to the servers. The result is a constant view of the connection screen - either disconnecting or attempting to reconnect. This makes the game nigh unplayable with a spotty Internet connection. If that worries you, a solution on PC is to play the game through Steam's "offline mode." I can only hope there's an easier solution down the road. The enjoyment players get from Just Cause 3 will come from exactly how they approach the game. Those looking to fly around and blow up just about everything in sight will be elated with one of the most fluid movement systems in any game and the gorgeous explosion visuals that really pack a punch. As bizarre as it sounds though, blowing everything sky high can start to feel tedious after a while without proper motivation.  I'm sure you'll be seeing a ton of animated GIFs of Just Cause 3 for a while to come, due to all of the wacky things that can happen within the game. It truly is an insane, explosion-filled romp through a beautiful nation chock-full of cheeky humor. It provides some of the best open-world tools ever. This is definitely a case of "it is what you make of it," and for those with intrinsic motivation to make it the best will be greeted with just that. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Just Cause 3 Review! photo
The best Spider-Man game yet
While driving down the New Jersey parkway for Thanksgiving, I began to notice a lot of water and radio towers perched high above the trees. "Wow, I could easily blow them up or tether them to the ground and bring them down," ...

Review: Xenoblade Chronicles X

Nov 30 // Chris Carter
Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)Developer: Monolith SoftPublisher: NintendoReleased: April 29, 2015 (Japan), December 4, 2015 (EU, US)MSRP: $59.99 X's timeline starts in 2054 AD, when a mysterious alien race assaults the Earth and decimates the human race as we know it. Arks deploy across the universe, and the only known survivor is the White Whale, which crash lands on the distant planet Mira. Cue a quest to kickstart mankind's new home, and you have your basic gist of what's going on. To be clear, the story is not related to the original Xenoblade in any way. You do not need to have played the other game to have an idea of what's going on, and by JRPG standards, X's story is rather clear and concise. The player goes through the experience as a silent protagonist, with a minor amount of dialogue choices (more like moods) in tow. There is no branching narrative here -- instead, you'll follow a linear storyline, with the ability to take control of any party member as your primary avatar, including the one you create. Where X really shines isn't by way of its serviceable, yet sometimes drawn-out story; it's the ability to create your own adventures. Through the use of a lone base (New LA) and a formidable, yet vulnerable organization called BLADE, you'll slowly learn more about Mira, the creatures that inhabit it, and the dangers involved beyond the alien race trying to wipe out your species. The giant, sprawling maps (of which there are five, all accessible at the start) are a dream come true for exploration enthusiasts, with secrets at every turn and points of interest every minute or so. While the visuals aren't anything to gawk at on a grand scale, the draw distance is absolutely incredible, to the point where I'm in awe Monolith was able to squeeze these textures into a Wii U title. Walking around in X is wondrous, and spotting giant screens-high enemies and world bosses (Indigens and Tyrants, respectively) is something you need to do yourself to truly grasp the game's scale. [embed]322015:61313:0[/embed] Players will start off with a male or female avatar of their choosing, and it's off to the races, with a rather quick tutorial session. From there, the game completely ceases to hold your hand, which is going to be a massive point of contention for some. Point blank, X is not a game you can casually pick up and play -- you need to immerse yourself in it. This not only goes for leveling up your character, but unlocking the requirements for story missions. Xenoblade Chronicles X is a tough and unforgiving game if you have no affinity toward the JRPG genre. Sure, there are a few modern conveniences peppered in, like fast travel, a detailed world map (accessible at all times on the GamePad screen), and the ability to save anywhere, but you will need to master nearly every facet of X to progress past the first few chapters. Hell, you'll need to actually read the manual to pick up on a few major things, old-school style, and I ended up taking paper notes just like I did in the NES days. It's going to be a polarizing thing for sure, but personally, I'm stoked to play something like this again. Learning all the game's ins and outs was a joy. It's particularly satisfying to take everything in and feel like you've accomplished something. The battle system is just as unforgiving as a lot of other aspects of X. It's based on an auto-attack system that presents you with a few skills at the start (such as power attacks or debuffs), but after a few hours the learning curve really ramps up. Players will have to juggle between ranged and melee attacks and abilities, both of which have their own styles, pros, and cons. By way of an MMO hotbar with icons and cooldowns, you'll have to micromanage all of the tools available to you, learn what abilities combo with others, and divine the right time to use them. Combat is also nuanced in practice, as enemies often have appendages that can be broken for strategic value. On paper it sounds like basic stuff, but once I earned the dodge and block abilities, timing became absolutely key to surviving a boss battle. Additionally, mastering other facets like the Soul Voice system (a harmless QTE that pops up occasionally, allowing you to heal your party), and knowledge of passive skill synergy will help. If all of that sounds scary, maybe Xenoblade Chronicles X isn't the game for you. Don't worry about the controls though. They work great, mostly thanks to the GamePad. As mentioned previously, it's constantly available as a map and fast travel datapad of sorts. If you're so inclined you can also use the Wii U Pro Controller, which works fine as well. In terms of length, X hits that sweet spot a lot of games in the genre tend to provide -- 50 hours or so for the story, and double that to do everything. What sets this JRPG apart from most of the competition however, is its ability to grab the player's attention throughout, and not just during specific juicy story sections. I would often spend hours at a time just aimlessly wandering around, finding mining locations to raise my income, and hunting down Tyrants. Every zone has a distinct feel to it, and in all, I've probably spent 10 hours in each individual area. Skells (mechs) have been a huge part of the game's marketing scheme, and it's important to know that you won't get them until roughly 20 to 30 hours into the core story (this is assuming you only do a light amount of exploring on top of that). After unlocking the opportunity to even obtain the license to pilot one, you'll have to complete a lengthy multi-tier optional questline. When I had first heard that figure based on player's experiences with the Japanese version I was turned off, but actually playing X, I quickly forgot about them, and when Skells did arrive, they felt like a cherry on top, opening up brand new exploration options via flight. Xenoblade does come with an online component, and just to be clear, I wasn't able to fully test it out. In addition to multiplayer squad support, there's also a system where you can recruit or interact with potential party members in an asynchronous manner, the latter of which I personally did have access to during my review period. It's a nice little bonus, as adding in a member from a vast online pool of players (even pre-launch) can help you fulfill a need in your party makeup that may be missing. Otherwise, this can be played completely offline, without any fear of missing out of an essential part of the game. This is one of the more interesting reviews I've done as of late because I know Xenoblade Chronicles X will be divisive. But it truly feels like an MMO world I've been living in for several weeks now. The more grimdark theme isn't quite as charming as the original Xenoblade, but everything else makes up for it. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Xenoblade review photo
I'm really feeling it
When Xenoblade Chronicles was announced for localization on the Wii, my heart skipped a beat. While there are plenty of JRPGs to go around, the more the merrier, and I wouldn't pass up the chance to experience another Monolith Soft game. I didn't quite have the same reaction to Xenoblade Chronicles X at first, but it really grew on me over time.

Review: Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon

Nov 27 // Ben Davis
Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon (3DS)Developer: Spike ChunsoftPublisher: NintendoMSRP: $39.99Released: November 20, 2015 To start things off in Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, the player will take a short personality test. The test determines which of the 20 starter Pokémon they will become; it also chooses their partner. However, the results can be overruled if the player is unhappy with their chosen 'mon. The game picked Mudkip for me, with Torchic as my parter, so I just went with it. The story of Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon revolves around a human who has been turned into a Pokémon and has lost their memory. The Pokéhuman wakes up in confusion to find that they're being attacked by a group of Beheeyem, but they're quickly led to safety by a kind Nuzleaf with a southern accent who shows them the ropes and brings them into town. Once in town, the player will make some new friends, meet up with their destined partner, and begin going on expeditions into mystery dungeons. From here, the main storyline will begin to reveal itself in bits and pieces. There are whispers of Pokémon around the world mysteriously being turned to stone, the Beheeyem are still following the player, and their memory of being a human refuses to return to them. Eventually, everything will start to fall into place and a grand adventure of world-ending proportions will unfold. But before all of that happens, there are dungeons to explore. These make up the core gameplay, of course. Mystery dungeons are made up of randomly generated grid-based floors filled with enemy Pokémon, items, and traps. Enemies only move when the player moves, so sometimes it's best to take things one step at a time so as to avoid suddenly becoming overwhelmed with foes. [embed]322769:61271:0[/embed] To attack, just hold down the left bumper to open up a menu of four possible moves, then select an action. It's also possible to combo moves with other team members by tapping the right bumper, which activates an "Alliance" to hit an enemy with multiple moves at once. Strategy is key to winning battles. Sometimes the best course of action is to waste a turn so that the enemy might move closer, opening up the possibility to land the first strike. Or, maybe it would be safer to switch positions with another teammate so they can take a blow and allow others to heal. Perhaps a liberal use of items will get the player out of a jam. A lot of planning and foresight is necessary in order to survive most confrontations, so simply spamming attacks is not going to cut it for the most part. Moving around dungeons will slowly heal injured Pokémon, but it will also decrease a hunger gauge as well, and if hunger reaches zero then the Pokémon's health will slowly begin to deplete. On top of that, there are status effects to worry about, such as poison or burns, which will stop Pokémon from regenerating health and will hurt them. Other effects, like confusion, can mess with a Pokémon's movement or ability to act. This can prove to be very annoying and potentially dangerous, so it's always a good idea to have the proper items available. Actually, a big part of mystery dungeon navigation involves managing items effectively. Only a certain amount can be held at once, but items will be scattered about all over the place and will quickly fill up the bag. It's a good idea to figure out which are the most important and plan accordingly. Some of the more important ones are oran berries and reviver seeds which are necessary for healing, elixirs which replenish the PP of moves, apples which stave off hunger, and wands and orbs that keep enemies at bay or help with dungeon navigation. There are also "Looplets" which act as the sole source of accessory. These can be upgraded with "Emeras" or gems which provide a wide array of different effects to help with combat and navigation (some may even cause a Mega Evolution!), but the Emeras will disappear upon exiting a dungeon. If the player fails a dungeon, they will lose all the items and money currently being held, unless they opt to wait for a rescue mission. These can be arranged on Pelipper Island, where the player can request help from other players via passwords, QR codes, local wireless, or IR connection. Alternatively, the player can simply return to their old save in order to retain items and money, but of course progress might be lost. Helper Pokémon can also be sent out from Pelipper Island for streetpass purposes, although I haven't encountered any yet. While story dungeons will force the player to use specific teams of Pokémon, normal dungeons will allow the player to choose any three Pokémon they wish to use. More Pokémon can be recruited by completing expeditions or simply chatting with folks around town, so the pool of possible allies will continue to grow larger and larger. All 720 Pokémon are available to be recruited, including legendaries, gender variations, all forms of Unown, and more. Using Pokémon in dungeons will allow them to level up and and learn new moves. I don't believe they can evolve, but since their evolutions can also be recruited, it doesn't really matter too much. Normal expeditions are where Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon really shines, but unfortunately they are few and far between until the main story has been completed. Free play finally opens up in the epilogue, but players are looking at about 20+ hours of gameplay and cutscenes before that happens. Aside from that, my only real complaints are the lack of skippable cutscenes and the fact that some story missions don't provide much opportunity for preparation. Even though it often allows the player to choose the items they want to take along and check out the shops beforehand, I still occasionally found myself woefully unprepared for story missions and ended up getting stuck with lousy equipment. The game also tends to save before long cutscenes right before boss fights, so I was forced to rewatch the same scenes over and over again whenever I died. The one before the final boss was particularly frustrating; it was so long! I'd have to say my favorite part of Super Mystery Dungeon is the way the Pokémon are portrayed. In most games and in the anime, the Pokémon simply say their own names and their personalities, if they have one at all, can only be implied. The main cast of characters in Super Mystery Dungeon consists of a good mix of Pokémon from each generation, and they're all given their own voice, each with different quirks, opinions, personalities, and sometimes even accents. It's really fun to learn about these guys in a new light. Some that I liked before I ended up hating this time around (like Pancham and Shelmet, those jerks!), while others that I may have ignored in previous games quickly became some of my favorites (like Espurr!). The cutscenes may have been long and the story may have been a little over-the-top, but I'd say it was worth it in the end just to get to know some of the Pokémon a bit better. Having never played any of the previous entries in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series, I can't really compare it to the earlier games. However, for my first foray into Pokémon roguelikes, I had a great time! The difficulty seemed to ramp up considerably in some places, but between items, Emeras, and the random elements, I was generally able to figure out a strategy that worked well enough for me to just barely make it through. But if that doesn't work for some players, there are always the rescue missions to fall back on in case of an emergency. If you're like me and you haven't tried a Mystery Dungeon game yet, this one comes highly recommended. I'm fairly confident fans of the series will not be disappointed either. On its own, Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon is a quirky, light-hearted spin-off with well-developed dungeon crawling gameplay that provides a satisfying level of difficulty and gives the player plenty of room to develop their own strategies, all the while offering tons of customization options with a huge roster of potential allies and moves. It's a solid entry in the Pokémon franchise. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Super Mystery Dungeon photo
Like Magic(karp)
The Pokémon Mystery Dungeon spin-off series transports the colorful cast of pocket monsters from the role-playing games into the challenging world of a roguelike dungeon crawler. Super Mystery Dungeon retains the charm...

PC Port Report: Assassin's Creed Syndicate

Nov 27 // Joe Parlock
Rig: AMD FX-8320 3.50GHz Eight-Core processor, 12GB of RAM, AMD HD 7970, Windows 10 64-Bit. Framerate measured with Raptr. Game played at the “High” graphics preset. First things first, as a technical product Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is definitely one of the best of the series on PC. The graphics options are incredibly descriptive, so those who may not quite understand which ambient occlusion or anti-aliasing settings would be best for them aren’t left in the dark. I particularly like the little bar in the top-right corner that shows just how much of your video memory is being used, letting you tweak the game to be as high quality as your card will allow. The game supports 4K resolutions for people with absolutely monster rigs and big enough screens to run them on, as well as widescreen resolutions (up to 2560x1080) and borderless windowed mode for easy swapping between applications. However, there are also some important options missing, such as the ability to change the FOV. This is a third person game though, so it probably isn’t as big of a problem for the majority of people as it would be in a first person ganme. Some people do still suffer from motion sickness when playing third person games though, so the option to change it could have been beneficial. Also worth noting is that Syndicate features full and complete key remapping, adjustable mouse acceleration, and full controller support for Xbox 360, Xbox One and PS4 controllers. Disappointingly, the menus suggest there is a way to remap controller inputs, but this doesn't actually appear to be possible. After spending so long playing Assassin’s Creed on PC, trying to play it with an Xbox 360 controller felt unnatural to me. The ability to tweak which button does what thing would’ve been nice. As I mentioned, Assassin’s Creed has never been known for its stellar PC ports. Assassin’s Creed III and Unity in particular suffered from poor optimisation, and I struggled to hit even a steady 30FPS on them with the rig described above. I’m not a framerate perfectionist who demands 60+ FPS in all things (even though I also understand people wanting to get what they’ve paid for out of their expensive hardware), but even then being able to get solidly 40+ FPS in Syndicate on the high preset felt like a breath of fresh air. Even in the most expansive or detailed areas I noticed very little drop in my framerate and considering how big the game is, that is a massive achievement. [embed]322674:61263:0[/embed] The only times there was a notable drop was on initially loading into the game (which is somewhat expected), and unfortunately during the carriage portions. Syndicate reintroduces drivable vehicles to the series, but whenever I picked up the pace or caused some carnage, the game would drop to around 20-25 FPS. This may be due to moving quicker through the world than it could load, but it was a bit of a disappointment none the less. Overall, I would have to say I’ve had a better time with Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s port than with Unity or AC3, and it’s even arguably running better than the better games in the series like Rogue or Black Flag. When I played the demo at EGX, I came away feeling incredibly disappointed. At the time, it was just as buggy as Unity, without building on any of the mechanics introduced. It felt like one big rehash, and it left me worried for the future of the series. Now that I’ve been let loose on the final version, I can safely say that I was totally wrong. Syndicate is right up there as being one of my favourites in the entire series. It has its problems, but I can confidently place it alongside Black Flag and Assassin’s Creed 2 as being one of the series high points. Victorian London is recreated beautifully. The detailed streets, the steam trains barging down the tracks, the Thames chock-full of boats…the entire game feels like you’ve stepped into a Charles Dickens novel. One that involves lots of stabbing and the threat of naked hologram aliens, but a Charles Dickens novel none the less. Weirdly, I’d argue Syndicate borrows and improves on a lot from Watch_Dogs too with just how many moving parts the city has. Carriages, trains and boats make London feels a lot more dynamic than previous cities in the series, and at times can allow for some really cool getaways. A big problem I had with combat in Unity was how effective ranged weapons were against you. Almost every enemy carried a gun, and there was no way to counter against them, meaning armed enemies at range had a massive, massive advantage and frequently proved fatal. This problem was elegantly solved in Syndicate, where now you can simply dodge shots at any time. You don’t even need a human shield anymore. To balance it, melee combat is a lot trickier now. Gone are the days of simply countering everything and killing everyone all in one combo. Now you have to be smart, do damage when you can, and often running away to get an advantage later on is the better solution. It really helps encourage stealthier play, while also not being an instant death sentence should you decide to be a bit noisy. Speaking of stealth, Syndicate takes a lot of emphases away from the series’ cornerstone of “social stealth”. Instead, you now have a stealth button that will cause Jacob and Evie to crouch down and pull their hoods up. A lot of the creeping is based more around hiding behind walls and staying out of sight, rather than hiding in plain view as has always been the core of the series up to now.  Blending into crowds just doesn’t feel all that important anymore, and at times I actually found it almost impossible to do. For example, bumping into other people can cause crowds to break up just enough to leave you exposed, but when you want to close the gap on an enemy using the crowd as cover you’ll be bumping into people a whole lot more. I’m still not sure whether this change is good or not, as when you’re placed into environments designed for it the new stealth system feels involving and effective, but it does make the game feel a bit less Assassin’s Creed to me as well. The changes to player movement in Syndicate can be a bit of a mixed bag. I love the new line launcher that lets you quickly scale buildings, across entire streets, and opens up lots of new tactical possibilities in dealing with enemies. Being able to jump in, cause some damage, and then zip away again really made me rethink how to handle enemy encounters, as now the strategies I’d learned from the earlier games simply wasn’t the best way of dealing with things. On the other hand, the parkour system does frequently suffer from weird pathfinding issues.Syndicate adopts Unity’s system of having one button to move up and another to move down, but moving down often resulted in me getting caught up on bits of scenery and winding up heading in a totally different direction than what I was intending. While it’s certainly nowhere near the broken state of Unity, Syndicate does still suffer from some bugs. Aside from the pathfinding issue I’ve already mentioned, I’ve notice plenty of people teleporting around in crowded areas, random deaths when pinned against stationary trains, and enemies running around in tiny circles. It’s by no means a bug-free game, but they’re minor hitches in a massive game, so I personally could look past them. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate does have problems, but that doesn’t stop it from being the most enjoyable, interesting and different entry since Black Flag. The setting is great, and the changes to combat, movement and stealth mean you can’t play it the same way as every other game in the series. It’s a bit buggy, and there are some minor performance issues, but please don’t let that stop you from picking up Syndicate. For both ardent fans and those who are a bit tired of the formula, chances are Syndicate is what you were hoping for. [This PC Port Report is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] Update: Since writing this PC Port Report, I have upgraded to an Nvidia GTX 980. I can now confirm (albeit only anecdotally) that people with Nvidia cards may struggle with getting acceptable performance out of the game. The GTX 980 is a high-end card in Nvidia’s range, and can easily get a steady 60FPS in every other game I’ve tried so far with it. However, when setting Syndicate to max settings (which is what it recommended for me), I rarely hit 60FPS, and instead generally hovered somewhere around 45-55FPS. For my old card, I considered this acceptable because of its age and mid-range status, but for something like the GTX 980 I would really be expecting better performance. One thing that weirdly became more noticeable once I’d upgraded were the cloth physics, which are for some weird reason locked to 30FPS. Even if you’ve somehow got the game running at a smooth 60, Jacob and Evie’s capes will look incredibly jerky. Fortunately,PCGamingWiki has a simple .ini tweak that will uncap the cloth’s framerate. Overall, I’d say that the previous reports of Nvidia kind of struggling with this game are accurate. It still plays at a framerate I’m personally happy with, but I would’ve expected more out of my sparkly new card. Optimisation seems to be somewhat worse, and I noticed graphical glitches were a bit more frequent than before. It’s still by no means a broken port on Nvidia-powered PCs, but it’s something to keep in mind. --
Assassin's Creed Syndicat photo
Let's 'ave a butcher's at the PC version
Assassin’s Creed has had a rough time on PC. Not only did the very first game control poorly, but later both the third game and the infamous Unity both had a glut of technical issues, bugs, and suffered with very p...

Very Quick Tips: Bloodborne: The Old Hunters

Nov 24 // Chris Carter
[embed]322164:61224:0[/embed] General tips (contains light, general spoilers): For a quick rundown of how to access the DLC, check out the video above. To locate the object to fight the optional boss, get to the point where you raise the giant elevator after the first boss fight (the room with the two human hunters). Step on and then step off to raise another platform. Grab that item and return to the main room in the Cathedral near the start of the DLC. Note that this one seems to be paced to fight after the first. If you're struggling with the DLC, try to at least have a Soul Level of 100 before attempting it. As always, it's possible to beat it no matter what your current level is, just keep that in mind. To obtain the Holy Moonlight Sword, talk to the head that appears after the first boss battle. If that doesn't work, equip the rune you obtained after beating him (Rally Bonus) and try again. If that fails, kill the head and take the weapon. For the boss that has multiple enemies, try to focus in on one at a time and quickly take them out. If you wait too long and don't keep track of the ones you've damaged, they will overwhelm you. When they summon the meteor attack, try to sprint around the arena clockwise. If you roll, you might get stunlocked. Alternatively, the Old Hunter's Bone spell is a great thing to trigger and use when the meteor chant is initiated. This one took me a while. After defeating the third boss (the humanoid opponent inside the clock room, pictured above), to get to the final area, you'll need to use the item you get from that fight on the giant window. At first I wasn't positioned correctly and nothing came up, so try to move around a bit if it doesn't trigger.
Bloodborne DLC tips photo
Wake up from the nightmare
When Bloodborne launched, I provided a series of tips for newcomers. They're still very much relevant for the dawn of the Old Hunters DLC pack, which debuts today, but I figured I'd provide a few add-on specific pieces of info. Note that there are light non-specific spoilers involved.


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